I've been having some bad luck in the kitchen: two batches of pickles came out tasting off, twice pans of caramels have burnt, my kefir grains are struggling to return from dormancy, and my freezer is just two darned small. Lately it seems like all I can do to make a decent dinner — like this lamb tagine with raisins and almonds, carrot salad, and tomato and pepper salad with preserved lemon. It's not much, but I did manage not to burn it.
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Here's what I brought to the christmas table — clockwise from the top: malted milk honeycomb, chocolate covered turkish delight, molasses honeycomb, mexican chocolate caramels with chili and salt, Lillet marshmallows, turkish delight, and chocolate covered honeycomb. Sprinkled throughout are orange and peppermint ribbon candies.
And here's a selection of some of the treats that others contributed to the dessert table. I can't identify half of these cookies, but in there somewhere are pfeffernusse, crisp cherry chews, three kinds of sugar cookies, gingersnaps, and there are a half-dozen more I didn't get photos of!
It was a long, lazy, and sugar-filled holiday vacation, and I hope yours was as restful and joyous! Now it is back to the grindstone!
Over the weekend I made one of my favorite pies, Dick Taeuber's Cordial Pie, in Brandy Alexander. I've made it a few times now, and (while I always over-chill the filling, resulting in a slightly lumpy interior) it has never failed to be a hit. It's particularly popular with the kind of friends who throw an annual thanksgiving party that requires a half-dozen boxes of wine, an entire refrigerator reserved for Jello shots, and a minimum of four turkeys.
That's because this pie is packing a pretty decent punch: half a cup of alcohol that never sees the heat of a stove. It's essentially a boozy Jello, with meringue and whipped cream folded in to make it almost unbearably rich, creamy, and fluffy. In the '70s, Dick Taeuber compiled formulas for something like 50 different flavors of cocktail pie, and while I've never ventured past the Brandy Alexander (cognac and creme de cacao), 20 delicious-sounding versions are still to be found on the New York Times site. It's even more perfect for a party because it takes about as much time and effort to make as a batch of Jello.
And by the way, that party? Here's what my plate looked like before I made it to the dessert table. I politely decline to post any photos of what anything looked liked after I made it to the bar.
Last night a foodie friend joined us for a dinner and mozzarella making. We used the recipe from Home Cheese Making, but a very similar recipe can be found on Leeners.com, where I've bought a lot of cheese-making supplies.
Mozzarella is very fast and doesn't take many special ingredients, so it's a worthwhile project for even the most casual cheese lover. The best part is stretching the hot, rubbery cheese. As you pull and fold it, it becomes glossy, smooth and stringy, more and more like mozzarella with each pull.
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.
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.
- • 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.
- • 3/4 cup sugar with
- • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- Pour this over the apples and mix well.
- • 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.
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.
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: