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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

David Lebovitz's Easy Jam Tart

I have been a fan of David Lebovitz's blog since I started my own.  His food and techniques are so down to earth, but absolutely impressive when the finished product gets to the table.  I've never met the man, but he did help me out once via Twitter when I was trying to find the American substitute for crème épaisse.  (That would be crème fraiche or a good heavy cream according to him, by the way.)  I guess that's the next best thing to meeting him in person!  ;-)

So when I was looking for something different to make for Thanksgiving dessert, my husband and I looked through his blog's recipes.  We were having duck, so wanted something not too rich, but something fruity.  I had bookmarked this recipe for his Easy Jam Tart long ago, so we decided to finally make it.  I can't tell you how easy it was!  I made it the day before, and as David suggests, the flavors really do meld after resting. 

It's a beauty, too.  Make this and take it to your next potluck.  Or make it for your next fancy dinner.  Or just eat the leftovers for breakfast as I did.  It works well in all situations.  The crust comes out like a cookie, so it's easily eaten with a hand, but you could also add a scoop of ice cream or whipped cream (only slightly sweetened) to dress it up on a plate.

But whatever the occasion, you do want to make this.  Now.  I used Bonne Maman Four Fruits jam, and it worked beautifully, but I'd like to try it with apricot next time.  The cornmeal gives it a hefty bite, so if you want something a little more refined, whir the cornmeal in a blender or food processor before using it.  I kind of liked the rough texture, though.  I also made another 1/2 batch of the dough because my tart pan was a little bigger than what David used.  Regardless, even with that little addition, this was a super easy and beautiful little tart to make and serve to your friends.  Or just hoard to yourself.

The recipe can be found at David Lebovitz's blog.  And if you haven't ever read it, take your time and read his other posts.  You can come back and thank me later.  :-)

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Monday, December 19, 2011

Baked Explorations: A Cookbook Review and Grasshopper Bars

Who doesn't love baked goods?!  My family can get quite addicted to them, and I think my husband did a little dance of joy when I started this blog and started taking baking seriously.  I was just telling him the other day that when I started blogging three years ago (!), I wasn't very confident in my baking abilities, but now I feel like I could conquer the baking world with the right equipment.  (I think that Santa might be bringing me a candy thermometer.)  :-)  So, when I saw the cover of Baked Explorations: Classic American Desserts Reinvented by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito, I couldn't wait to get my hands on a copy.  I mean, just look at that cover! (And it's full of equally enticing photos of equally scrumptious desserts!)

Lewis and Poliafito run the well-known bakeries, Baked, in both Brooklyn and Charleston, but don't assume that the home cook knows everything there is to know about baking.  The cookbook starts with sections on necessary tools for baking (but keep it simple for those of us with small kitchens) and baking terms/brand recommendations/techniques.  The book is built around dessert chapters: Breakfast, Tarts and Pies, Cookies and Bars, Cakes, and Confections and Pastry.  And it helpfully ends with conversion charts for those who prefer to use the metric system.  Each recipe begins with notes from the bakers--all tongue in cheek, but helpful nonetheless.

When I received my copy, I flipped through it first with my daughter.  I told her that we would need to pick one or two recipes to try, so she decided to help me...by bookmarking every page!  I restrained myself from doing so as well, but I felt the same giddiness.  The book is chock-full of recipes for baked goods that Americans would recognize from growing up...just a little more refined.  (I'd highly recommend this book if you are lucky enough to score some gift certificates for Christmas and like to bake!)  We finally settled on making Grasshopper Bars for some guests coming over, but with the caveat that I would make Nutella Scones for Christmas breakfast and the Caramel Apple Cake for Christmas dinner. I'll let you know how that goes after Christmas, but given how good these Grasshopper Bars were, I'm sure that the scones and cake will be delicious.  These bars are rich with chocolate, but the mint provides a refreshing after-dinner quality to the smooth bars.

Grasshopper Bars
Ever-so-slightly adapted from Baked Explorations

For the brownie base:
3/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (The original called for 1 tablespoon dark unsweetened cocoa powder, but I couldn't find any at our local shops.)
5 ounces good quality dark chocolate, coarsely chopped (I used 60%, but you can go up to 72%.)
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes
3/4 cups sugar
1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the buttercream:
3/4 cups sugar
2 tablespoons flour
3/4 cup milk
2 tablespoons heavy cream
3/4 cups (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened, but still cool, cut into small cubes
3 tablespoons creme de menthe
1 teaspoon peppermint extract

For the chocolate glaze:
6 ounces good-quality dark chocolate, coarsely chopped (I used 60%, but you can go up to 72%.)
1 teaspoon light corn syrup
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened, cut into cubes

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Butter the sides and bottom of a glass or metal 9x13-inch pan.  Line the bottom with parchment paper, and butter that too.  In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, salt and cocoa powder together and set aside.

Put about an inch or two of water in a medium saucepan and place a medium bowl or double boiler pan over the water (making sure the water does not touch the bowl) and place over medium heat.  Place the chocolate and butter in the bowl and stir occasionally until they are completely melted and combined.  Turn off the heat, but keeping the bowl over the hot water bath, add both sugars.  Whisk the sugars until completely combined.  Remove the bowl from the pan.  The mixture should be at about room temperature.

Add the eggs to the chocolate mixture and whisk until just combined.  Add the vanilla and mix until combined.  Do not overbeat the batter.

Pour the chocolate mixture into a larger mixing bowl.  Sprinkle the flour mixture over the chocolate.  Using a spatula (do not use a whisk), fold the dry ingredients into the wet until there is just a trace amount of the flour mix visible.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smooth the top with a spatula, and bake for about 12-15 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time.  The brownies should be just a little underdone.  A toothpick inserted into the brownies at an angle should contain a few loose crumbs.  Remove the brownies from the oven and let cool completely while you make the buttercream filling.

Making the buttercream:
In a medium saucepan, whisk the sugar and flour together.  Add the milk and cream and cook over medium heat, whisking occasionally until the mixture some to a boil and has thickened, about 5 to 7 minutes.

Transfer the mixture to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Beat on high speed until the mixture cools.  Reduce the speed to low and add the butter.  Mix until thoroughly incorporated.  Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the filling is light and fluffy.

Add the creme de menthe and peppermint extract and mix until combined.  If the filling is too soft, chill slightly in the refrigerator and then mix again until it is the proper consistency.  If the filling is too firm, place the bowl over a pot of simmering water and remix until it is the consistency of buttercream frosting.  Spread the filling evenly across the top of the brownie layer (once the brownie layer has COMPLETELY cooled) and place the pan in the refrigerator for at least 45 minutes.

Making the chocolate glaze:
In a large, non-reactive metal bowl, combine the chocolate, corn syrup and butter.  Set the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and cook, stirring with a rubber spatula, until the mixture is completely smooth.  Remove the bowl from the pan and stir vigorously for 1 minute to release excess heat.

Pour the mixture over the chilled buttercream layer and either use a spatula to spread the chocolate or tilt the pan back and forth until the butter cream layer is completely covered and the the chocolate is smooth.  Place the pan back in the refrigerator for at least one hour or until the glaze hardens.

Remove the pan from the refrigerator 15 minutes before serving.  Cut the bars with a warm knife.  Cut into squares and serve immediately.  The bars can be stored in the refrigerator, tightly covered, for up to 4 days.

Disclosure: A review copy of this cookbook was sent to me free of charge. I was not required to post about it and received no compensation for doing so. 

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Monday, December 12, 2011

Double Chocolate Snowball Cookies [International Blogger Cookie Exchange]

Last year I participated in the first annual International Blogger Cookie Exchange hosted by Lori at Fake Food Free and Andrea of Food Embrace and loved it so much that I put my name in the hat to participate again.  Instead of actually sending the cookies we make to each other, we send each other recipes to try at home and eat ourselves!  I was delighted to find out that my recipe was coming from fellow Kentucky Food Blogger Tammi from Picture Perfect Cooking.  She sent me the recipe for Double Chocolate Snowball Cookies...and my entire family LOVED them!  These are great cookies to make with kids--easy, but they get to get their hands dirty while rolling the dough around the chocolate chips.  My daughter helped make these, but as you can see in the photo above, it was my son who tried to sneak a bite or two!

I made the recipe as instructed for half of the batch.  The second half, I divided into two parts and tried different fillings.  I had a craving for caramel, so my original idea was to stuff a caramel into each cookie, but my daughter begged to create her own cookie...how could I say no?!  I cut caramel squares into quarters and placed two quarters into each of my cookies.  My daughter wanted to play with hers, so put one quarter of a caramel and two chocolate chips into hers.  Her version won hands down!  The all-caramel cookies leaked caramel all over the pan and came out flat, while hers looked just like the original version.  My husband described my daughter's cookies as tasting just like a candy bar.  I'll definitely be making this again and am excited to try out new fillings: miniature candy bars, peppermint chips...the possibilities are endless!

Double Chocolate Snowball Cookies
Adapted slightly from Picture Perfect Cooking

Recipe Notes: This is the original version of the recipe, but feel free to play around with the fillings and possibly even the dough flavors.  Try substituting other extracts for the vanilla and see what happens!

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa
1 cup nuts, crushed or chopped (I used hazelnuts.)
Semi-sweet chocolate chips
Powdered Sugar

In a large bowl, mix the butter, sugar and flour until light and fluffy.  Stir in the flour, cocoa and nuts.  Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and flatten into a disk.  Chill for one hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Place a sheet of parchment paper on a cookie sheet.  Unwrap the dough and cut it into about 24 even pieces.  Flatten each piece into a circle and place three chocolate chips into the middle.  Shape into a ball, tucking the chocolate chips inside.  Place on the parchment paper and bake for 18-20 minutes.  Remove from the oven and let the cookies cool for about 5 minutes on the sheet or until you can remove the cookies to a cooking rack without them falling apart.  Once they've cooled a little more, roll in powdered sugar.

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Thursday, December 8, 2011

How to Make Garlic Salt...and How to Balance Blogging and Life

I don't know how parents stay sane.  Really, I don't.  Between work (whether you have a full-time job or stay at home), extracurricular activities, beginning-of-the-winter illnesses, last-minute work trips, etc., etc., I'm surprised that parents get to sleep at all, let alone have a hobby.  My hobby is cooking and writing for this blog, and it will remain a hobby unless someone wants to pay me to do it.  (Hint, hint...anyone out there want to pay me to write here???)  And as fulfilling and fun as this blog is, it is often the first thing to get cut from my to-do list when duty calls.  Unfortunately, duty has called a lot more recently.  So please forgive my sporadic posts, and please understand that I probably won't be baking 18 different types of holiday cookies to share here.  Not that I don't want to bake all of those cookies and share them with my lovely readers, but the reality is that I'll be lucky if I get to bake one type of cookie this season!  It may seem like I'm complaining, but I'm not.  My family is healthy and happy...just very, very busy at the moment, and I'd like to savor just a little of that time before my kiddos get too old to want to share that time with me.  :-)

I am, however, going to share a great tip today about making your own garlic salt.  For some reason, I'm either always out of the stuff or it's been so long since I used it that it's all caked at the bottom of the jar.  The other day, I realized I was out, but really wanted to use some on baked kale chips.  Then the proverbial light bulb went off over my head...and I made some from scratch!  It takes all of 5-10 minutes to make and really tastes fresh--I guess anything's fresher when it doesn't come out of a plastic bottle!  I made extra to have on hand and stored it in an airtight container in the refrigerator, but it didn't last long.  The garlic salt turned a greenish tint, which although wasn't mold-based, did turn me off from using it.  This should last a few days in the fridge, but it's easy enough to make it on demand whenever you need it!

First, peel and trim your garlic.  I used two cloves for this batch, which made about 1/4 cup.  Roughly chop the garlic and place in a mortar bowl.

Add about a tablespoon of Kosher salt and using a pestle, grind into a paste.

Continue adding Kosher salt until the mixture is no longer paste-like and looks more like salt.

And that's it!  Use it as you would with store-bought garlic salt.  It tasted delicious on the kale chips, but I bet it would also be great on popcorn!

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