December 2008 Archives

 

A mouthful of a candy in more ways than one, these Salted Mexican Chocolate Caramels with Chili were my only real holiday candy project. Although I am sad I didn't have time to make fudge or many cookies this year, these caramels turned out so amazing I can't really complain.

They start with the same irresistible pairing of salt, chocolate and caramel as regular salted chocolate caramels, but they quickly turn on the tongue, becoming warmly spiced, the cinnamon and chilis combining to create a complex and smokey undertone. As the candy melts away, the mild heat of the chili appears on the back of the tongue.

Like my candy thermometer? It's ever so helpful! Good thing I know the cold water test (which is much more reliable than temperature for these sorts of things anyways).

Despite the fancy boutique flavors, this is no more difficult than any other caramel, and it can easily be made in a busy afternoon. I'd been wanting to experiment with Mexican chocolate and chilis in these caramels for some time now, and I'm glad they turned out well enough to share the recipe! Caramel is so adaptable, I've got a dozen other flavor combinations waiting in the wings...

Salted Mexican Chocolate Caramels with Chili

Adapted from Epicurious' Salted Chocolate Caramels

  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 2-4 small dried red chilis, broken into pieces
  • 1 tsp cinnamon, or to taste
  • 5 oz fine-quality dark or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 5 1/2 oz Mexican chocolate, such as Ibarra, Abuelita, or if you are lucky, Taza, also finely chopped
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup Lyle's Golden Syrup or light corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 teaspoon table salt
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon pieces
  • 2 teaspoons flaky sea salt such as Maldon

Line bottom and sides of an 8-inch straight-sided square metal baking pan with 2 long sheets of crisscrossed parchment.

The first step is infusing the cream with chili. I like to do this in parts, in case your chilis are more or less hot than you expect, but if you are feeling confident, by all means infuse in one step! Bring 1 cup of cream to a boil and add half the chili pieces. Remove from heat, cover, and let steep for 30 minutes. Test the cream for spiciness — it should be a little spicier than you'd like the final candy to be. If it is too spicy, you can dilute it with the rest of the cream. If it is right, or too mild, strain it and repeat the process with the rest of the cream, adding more chilis if needed. If you can't get it spicy enough, you can supplement with a pinch of cayenne, but use a light hand and incorporate it well.

When the cream is as spicy as you would like, return all the strained cream just to a boil in a 1- to 1 1/2-quart heavy saucepan over moderately high heat, then reduce heat to low and add both kinds of chocolate and the cinnamon. Let stand 1 minute, then stir until chocolate is completely melted. Remove from heat.

Bring sugar, syrup, water, and regular salt to a boil in a 5- to 6-quart heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Boil, uncovered, without stirring but gently swirling pan occasionally, until sugar is deep golden, about 10 minutes. Tilt pan and carefully pour in chocolate mixture (mixture will bubble and steam vigorously). Continue to boil over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until the mixture forms a soft ball when cooled in water (Epicurious suggests 255°F). Add butter, stirring until completely melted, then immediately pour into lined baking pan (do not scrape any caramel clinging to bottom or side of saucepan). Let caramel stand 10 minutes, then sprinkle evenly with sea salt. Cool completely in pan on a rack, about 2 hours.

Carefully invert caramel onto a clean, dry cutting board, then peel off parchment. Turn caramel salt side up. Lightly oil blade of a large heavy knife and cut into 1-inch squares.

 

This will be my last Daring Bakers entry until May, so I'm glad it was an exciting one! This month's challenge is brought to us by the adventurous Hilda from Saffron and Blueberry and Marion from Il en Faut Peu Pour Etre Heureux. They have chosen a French Yule Log by Flore from Florilege Gourmand.

The best thing about this challenge is that it offered six different elements, each of which could be flavored however we liked. The base recipe was mostly chocolate, but I wasn't in a very chocolaty mood, so I decided to go with a vanilla, almond, orange and white chocolate yule log. The layers you can see above are an almond-orange dacquoise cookie topping a frozen vanilla mousse surrounding a layer of creme brulee and a layer of crunchy orange and praline white chocolate, then, at the bottom, white chocolate ganache and another almond-orange cookie. The whole thing is coated in a white chocolate icing.

The layers are made one at a time, and then gently nestled into a bed of mousse. The only changes I made to the recipe were to add a little orange zest and juice to the praline crisp, ganache, and cookie layers. In retrospect, I should have added some to the vanilla mousse as well.

Once again, you can see that my icing skills are subpar, but man, this thing tastes great. It's a perfect make-ahead holiday dessert, and really visually impressive (even moreso if you can make an even layer of icing!). All the layers interact together well in taste and texture, but my favorite is the praline crisp layer. Praline paste, white chocolate, crispy French cookies and orange makes for a crunchy, nutty, and satisfying mouthful. The only drawback to this project is that I didn't dare drive it across New England to family celebrations, so we're left to try to consume a giant loaf of incredibly rich frozen confection on our own! Maybe I'll go get another slice out of the freezer right now...

Element #1 Dacquoise Biscuit (Almond Cake)


  • 2.8 oz (3/4cup + 1Tbsp / 80g) almond meal
  • 1.75 oz (1/2 cup / 50g) confectioner's sugar
  • 2Tbsp (15g) all-purpose flour
  • 3.5oz (100g / ~100ml) about 3 medium egg whites
  • 1.75 oz (4 Tbsp / 50g) granulated sugar
  • Zest of half an orange

1. Finely mix the almond meal and the confectioner's sugar. (If you have a mixer, you can use it by pulsing the ingredients together for no longer than 30 seconds).
2. Sift the flour into the mix, and gently toss in the orange zest.
3. Beat the eggs whites, gradually adding the granulated sugar until stiff.
4. Pour the almond meal mixture into the egg whites and blend delicately with a spatula.
5. Grease a piece of parchment paper and line your baking pan with it.
6. Spread the batter on a piece of parchment paper to an area slightly larger than your desired shape (circle, long strip etc...) and to a height of 1/3 inches (8mm).
7. Bake at 350°F (180°C) for approximately 15 minutes (depends on your oven), until golden.
8. Let cool and cut to the desired shape.

Element #2 Vanilla Mousse

  • 2/3 cup (160g) heavy cream (35% fat content)
  • 2/3 cup (160g) whole milk
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 4 medium-sized egg yolks
  • 3 oz (6 Tbsp / 80g) granulated sugar
  • 3 Tbsp (25g) cornstarch, sifted
  • 4g / 2 tsp powdered gelatin or 2 sheets gelatin
  • 1 cup (240g) whipping cream (35% fat content)

1. Pour the milk and 2/3 cup cream into a saucepan. Split the vanilla bean in half, scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean halves into milk and put the vanilla bean in as well.
2. Heat to boiling, then turn the heat off, cover and let infuse for at least 30 minutes. Then remove the vanilla bean.
3. Beat the egg yolks with the sugar until white, thick and fluffy.
4. Add the cornstarch, beating carefully to ensure that there are no lumps. While whisking vigorously, pour some of the milk into the yolk mixture to temper it.
5. Put infused milk back on the stove on medium heat. Pour yolk mixture back into the milk while whisking vigorously. Keep whisking vigorously until mixture thickens considerably.
6. As soon as the mixture starts to boil, leave on for only 2 more minutes. (The recipe says you should remove the vanilla bean at this time but in the interest of no one getting burned, that can be done after you take the pastry cream off the stove.)
7. Once removed from the heat, cover the pastry cream by putting plastic film directly on the surface of the cream (this prevents it from forming a thick and unappetizing skin as it cools). Let cool at room temperature.
8. Soften the gelatin in cold water and melt in a small saucepan with 1 tsp of water OR melt in the microwave for 1 second (do not boil). Whisking vigorously, pour the cooled pastry cream over it.
9. Whip the 1 cup whipping cream until stiff and add gradually to the pastry cream (DO NOT WHISK). Blend delicately with a spatula (DO NOT WHISK).

Element #3 White Chocolate Ganache Insert

  • 1.75 oz (4 Tbsp / 50g) granulated sugar
  • 5 oz (135g) white chocolate, finely chopped
  • 4.5 oz (2/3 cup - 1 Tbsp / 135g) heavy cream (35% fat content)
  • Juice of half an orange

1. Make a caramel: Using the dry method, melt the sugar by spreading it in an even layer in a small sauce pan with high sides. Heat over medium-high heat, watching it carefully as the sugar begins to melt. Never stir the mixture. As the sugar starts to melt, swirl the pan occasionally to allow the sugar to melt evenly. Cook to dark amber color (for most of you that means darker than last month's challenge).
2. While the sugar is melting, heat the cream until boiling. Pour cream into the caramel and stir thoroughly. Be very careful as it may splatter and boil.
3. Pour the hot caramel-milk mixture over the milk chocolate. Wait 30 seconds and stir, gradually adding the orange juice, until smooth.

Element #4 Praline Feuillete (Crisp) Insert

Gavottes (lace crepes)

Recipe by Ferich Mounia
Makes 2.1oz / 60g

  • 1/3 cup (80ml) whole milk
  • 2/3 Tbsp (8g) unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup - 2tsp (35g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tbsp / 0.5 oz (15g) beaten egg
  • 1 tsp (3.5g) granulated sugar
  • ½ tsp vegetable oil

1. Heat the milk and butter together until butter is completely melted. Remove from the heat.
2. Sift flour into milk-butter mixture while beating, add egg and granulated sugar. Make sure there are no lumps.
3. Grease a baking sheet and spread batter thinly over it.
4. Bake at 430°F (220°C) for a few minutes until the crepe is golden and crispy. Let cool.

Praline Feuillete

  • 3.5 oz (100g) white chocolate
  • 1 2/3 Tbsp (25g) butter
  • 2 Tbsp (1 oz / 30g) praline
  • 2.1oz (60g) lace crepes(gavottes)
  • 2 Tbsp orange zest

1. Melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler.
2. Add the praline, zest and the coarsely crushed lace crepes. Mix quickly to thoroughly coat with the chocolate.
3. Spread between two sheets of wax paper to a size slightly larger than your desired shape. Refrigerate until hard.

Element #5 Vanilla Crème Brulée Insert

  • 1/2 cup (115g) heavy cream (35% fat content)
  • ½ cup (115g) whole milk
  • 4 medium-sized (72g) egg yolks
  • 0.75 oz (2 Tbsp / 25g) granulated sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean

1. Heat the milk, cream, and scraped vanilla bean to just boiling. Remove from the stove and let the vanilla infuse for about 1 hour.
2. Whisk together the sugar and egg yolks (but do not beat until white).
3. Pour the vanilla-infused milk over the sugar/yolk mixture. Mix well.
4. Wipe with a very wet cloth and then cover your baking mold (whatever shape is going to fit on the inside of your Yule log/cake) with parchment paper. Pour the cream into the mold and then place the mold into a larger baking dish and add about an inch of water. Bake in the water bath at 210°F (100°C) for about 1 hour or until firm on the edges and slightly wobbly in the center. [I found this to be nowhere near long enough, and ended up turning up the temperature.]
5. Let cool and put in the freezer for at least 1 hour to firm up and facilitate the final assembly.

Element #6 White Chocolate Icing

  • 1.5 gelatin sheets or 3g / 1/2Tbsp powdered gelatin
  • 3.5 oz (100g) white chocolate
  • 2 Tbsp (30g) unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup (90 g) whole milk
  • 1 2/3 Tbsp (30g) glucose or thick corn syrup

1. Soften the gelatin in cold water for 15 minutes.
2. Coarsely chop the chocolate and butter together.
3. Bring the milk and glucose syrup to a boil.
4. Add the gelatin.
5. Pour the mixture over the chocolate and butter. Whisk until smooth.
6. Let cool while checking the texture regularly. As soon as the mixture is smooth and coats a spoon well (it is starting to gelify), use immediately.

Assemble the Yule Log

1) Line your mold or pan, whatever its shape, with rhodoid (clear hard plastic, I usually use transparencies cut to the desired shape, it's easier to find than cellulose acetate which is what rhodoid translates to in English) OR plastic film. Rhodoid will give you a smoother shape but you may have a hard time using it depending on the kind of mold you're using.
2) Cut the Dacquoise into a shape fitting your mold and set it in there. If you are using an actual Yule mold which is in the shape of a half-pipe, you want the Dacquoise to cover the entire half-pipe portion of the mold.
3) Pipe one third of the Mousse component on the Dacquoise. You will want to tap your mold gently on the countertop after each time you pipe mousse in to get rid of any air bubbles.
4) Take the Creme Brulee Insert out of the freezer at the last minute and set on top of the mousse. Press down gently to slightly ensconce it in the mousse.
5) Pipe second third of the Mousse component around and on top of the Creme Brulee Insert.
6) Cut the Praline/Crisp Insert to a size slightly smaller than your mold so that it can be surrounded by mousse. Lay it on top of the mousse you just piped into the mold.
7) Pipe the last third of the Mousse component on top of the Praline Insert.
8) Freeze for a few hours to set. Take out of the freezer.
9) Pipe the Ganache Insert onto the frozen mousse leaving a slight eidge so that ganache doesn't seep out when you set the Dacquoise on top.
10) Close with the last strip of Dacquoise.
Freeze until the next day.

THE NEXT DAY...
Unmold the cake/log/whatever and set on a wire rack over a shallow pan.
Cover the cake with the icing.
Let set and decorate as desired. Return to the freezer, transferring to the refrigerator no longer than ½ hour before serving.

 

One of the reasons that I've been so busy (and therefore still posting about Thanksgiving!) is that Greg and I have been planning something big: starting in late January, we'll be traveling through East Asia for three months. We plan to start in Hong Kong, and then wend our way through southern China, Vietnam, maybe Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Korea, Japan, and finally back through China to Hong Kong. And you can bet we'll be eating some exciting and wonderful things along the way. The Brave Potato will continue, more or less as usual, until we leave, and then I'll be posting about our adventures abroad, culinary and otherwise, until May.

Now, I am taking a day or two off to enjoy some time with family! Happy holidays to all!

 

I don't know what they put in Meyenberg Goat Milk Butter to make it so delicious — maybe it's the "natural flavors," maybe it is just the goats' milk, cream and salt, and maybe I don't care, because I cannot stop eating it! It is light and delicately goaty, perfectly salty, with an absolutely creamy and tender bite. I want to eat it like cheese, but am mostly managing to restrain myself.

P.S. I am not in any way affiliated with Meyenberg, but I am starting to wish I were.

 

Ok, I know, it's almost Christmas, and I am still talking about Thanksgiving. But to be honest, December has been pretty quiet in the kitchen and pretty busy everywhere else. Also, these pies are just awesome and deserve to be blogged, late or not.

Apple pie was never my favorite. In fact, until I was in college, pumpkin was the only pie that I would even give the time of day to. That all changed when I met the apple pie above. Cinnamon and nutmeg are delightful, but this pie was like nothing I'd ever tasted. Sweet, but also bright and enticingly herby, I've made it every year since. It is the Apple Pie with Rosemary and Lemon, and it is magical.

Another exciting and nontraditional pie joined the lineup this year: my friend April's new Haroset Pie. It's all the deliciousness of haroset, but in a pie. Although it was experimental, it turned out perfectly, and holds promise for endless variations. Recipes below!

Also, get a load of those bubbly buttery flakes on this crust:

Apple Pie with Lemon and Rosemary

  • From Plenty, by Gay Nichols.

  • Preheat the oven to 400 F.

  • Prepare
  • • One greased pie dish
  • • one batch of pastry for a two crust pie.

  • Peel, core and slice
  • • 5-6 large cooking apples--brameleys, courtlands, or jonagold, though granny smith will do too.

  • Mix
  • • 3/4 cup sugar with
  • • 2 tablespoons cornstarch

  • Pour this over the apples and mix well.

  • Zest
  • • 1 lemon and
  • take the leaves off
  • • 1 sprig of rosemary.

Roll out the pastry and put it in the pie dish. Wet the edges. Arrange the apple slices and put in the rosemary and lemon zest spread evenly over the apple. Make the lid, lay it on top of the pie, crimp the crusts, make a hole for the steam in the center, and bake at 400 F for ten minutes, then 350 for 40 minutes, or until a cake tester through the center hole finds mushy apple slices, not hard ones.

[Note: I always glaze the top of the pie with milk and dust with sugar for a sweet and crunchy crust.]


A first draft: Haroset Pie

  • A work in progress by April Holm, based on this Honey Apple Pie and haroset.

  • • One batch of pastry for a two crust pie.
  • • 8 Granny Smith apples (or other pie apple)
  • • 1/3 cup honey
  • • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • • 2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • • 1/2 cup raisins
  • • 1/2 cup toasted walnuts, roughly chopped
  • • 6 tablespoons sweet red wine

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.

Place the raisins and four tablespoons of the red wine in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Quickly take them off the heat (they can easily burn), cover, and let cool.

Mix all remaining filling ingredients, including the other 2 tablespoons of wine. Roll out the two pie crusts, and place one in the pie dish and trim. Transfer the filling into the pie dish and cover it with the second crust. Seal and crimp the edges and decorate the pie as desired, making sure to include steam vents. Bake at 400 for 15 minutes, then reduce temperature to 350 and bake for another 30 minutes, or until done.

You can adjust the amount of raisins and walnuts to taste, or add any other traditional haroset ingredients - next time, April is planning on adding ginger, for example, and I was just thinking about orange zest and almonds.

 

Over Thanksgiving, I became acquainted with this lovely device. I know, I know, I'm late to the party. But, ok, it IS awesome— it slices, it dices, and all of that. This baby churned out apples for two overstuffed pies in just a couple minutes. The best thing of all? The little lever-operated suction cup that affixes it to the counter. More things should have lever-operated suction cups!

 

A friend of ours throws a delightful cookie party every December: guests bring cookies or dough to swap and decorate, and after a few hours of leisurely baking and frosting, everyone goes home with a giant box of cookies. And I mean giant. These pictures do not even begin to convey the spectacular variety or overwhelming number of cookies at this party. On top of the gingerbread, molasses cookies, truffles, sugar cookies, coconut clusters and pizzelles below, there were biscotti, mint-chocolate chip, three kinds of oatmeal, toffee bars, spoon cookies, wine twists, crumbly crescent cookies and mini black and whites.

 

After weeks of waiting, last weekend it was finally time to take our beer to our friendly little competition. Here are our beers, labeled and ready to go!

And here are all the competitors, lined up in the fridge.

The judging was single-blind, in three rounds. Unfortunately there were more people ready to give opinions (roughly 3,204) than people ready to write them down (1). Our poor statistician didn't see anything other than rows of these little blue cups all night, while the rest of us enjoyed a delicious selection of homebrews and dance music.

So, how did our beers do? Solidly middle-of-the-pack, 4 and 5 out of 10. I happen to like our beers a little better than that, but hey, I made a Belgian white because it's my favorite kind of beer, so it's hardly surprising that I like it!

There was also a label competition. The winner was charmingly named after this pop culture phenomenon, but I was also a fan of the small print on this one.

 

I've got a paper due this week, so you've got this beautiful persimmon and granola post-Thanksgiving breakfast pic!

 

I was shocked to look back over the first seven months of this blog and find not one single mention of pie crust. Pie crust happens to be my specialty— I've tried more recipes for pie crust than for any other single dish. I've used butter, lard, shortening, oil, and duck fat. I've cut the fat in, blended it in, rubbed it in and rolled it. I've chilled water, bowls, fats, the table and my hands. I doubt I'll ever stop experimenting, but I'm currently working with a recipe I'm pretty happy with.

My best tips for pie crust: No shortening or oil. Stick to all-butter or half-butter, half-lard (or other rendered animal fat - the duck fat was pretty sublime). Don't forget the salt or sugar: I use a teaspoon of salt and a tablespoon of sugar for a double-crust, but you may like more or less. Chill everything, all the time, as much as possible, including your hands if they touch the dough. Food processors aren't worth the time it takes to clean them.

Two tricks that I am currently using with my crusts: vodka and a rolling pin. Increasing the amount of water in the recipe and replacing about half of it with vodka, a tip I first picked up at Smitten Kitchen (and here's an update), makes your dough more pliable, and since the vodka evaporates in the oven, you don't sacrifice crispness. My doughs tend to be a little crumbly, so I really love the vodka trick, which means I never have to see a sheet of pie crust crack on the way into the dish. I've noticed that the ease of working with this dough means that overworking it is tempting, so it can get tough, but overall it's improved my crusts.

The second trick I'm into right now is using a rolling pin to integrate the fat. I cut up the fat into smallish chunks, toss it into the dry ingredients, and then run over it with the rolling pin, pressing the fat into sheets. After a few rolls, I toss the mixture and roll again, repeating the process until all of the fat has been squashed out, and it looks like the photo above. Then it can be scraped into a bowl and the water (and maybe vodka) can be added as usual. The rolling makes lots of little layers of flour and fat, and produces excellent flakiness.

 

After brewing our beer, and waiting a few weeks, it was time to bottle it! Above you can see the hydrometer, which is used to measure the alcohol content of the beer— Greg's Chocolate Stout there is about 5.7% alcohol by volume.

This is what the beer looks like when you open it up:



and that is what it smells like. Like heaven, basically. Heady is the only word for it.

The next step is to add the priming sugar to the beer. This spurs a second fermentation stage in the bottle, where the CO2 produced is trapped and carbonates the beer. Not all beers use priming sugar, but it's a quick and easy way to produce carbonation. After the priming sugar is added, the beer must be quickly piped into well-sanitized bottles and capped with sanitized caps.

The nifty tool in the photo above is a spring-release siphon tube that releases beer when you press it against the bottom of the bottle and shuts off the flow when you lift it. On the other end of the tube is an auto-siphon, a little pump that starts the flow of beer through the siphon— once the tube is full of beer, physics takes care of pulling it through the tube into the bottle. All you have to do is make sure not to pick up any of the sludgy yeast residue at the bottom (or transfer the beer to a separate bucket first). As soon as the bottle is full, you clamp a cap on with another nifty little tool.

Voila! Bottled beer! And when we cracked one open about a week later? Complete success! Even my totally questionable, twice-boiled-over beer is pretty great (at least according to me— it's possible it's a beer only a mother could love). Greg's beer is, without reservations, the best chocolate stout I have ever tasted. I can't wait to taste all the other beers at the competition. If Greg and I can make one decent beer and one great beer on our first try, just think what some of the experts will bring to the party!

 

Things I am grateful for: a week of gorgeous California November, and approximately two dozen of my favorite people to share it with. Friends who will pick you up from the airport (or the BART station); take you to their favorite butchers, bakers and coffee-makers; make you dinner; play portable Catan by candlelight under the redwoods with you; let you kiss their adorable elfin babies; or welcome you into their homes and make you a part of their families. The ability to run and walk and hike in the crisp air, and to bake and laugh and drink champagne punch in the warm kitchen. My loving and supportive family.

And, of course, moments like these:

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