Saturday, July 27, 2013

TKOs (double chocolate faux oreos but way better because they're salted)

I’ve been trying more and more to use my bookshelf full of cookbooks. I seem to have an ever-growing collection of them, each more “essential” than the last. Don’t get me wrong, I really do love them and read through them all the time, but I often find that when I’m looking for inspiration, I turn to my “pinned” recipes and bookmarked blog posts rather than my bookshelf.
I’ve been making more of an effort to use my cookbooks, especially the new ones that have never been smudged with chocolate or sprinkled with flour. Yet. I was recently at a bookstore and came across the BouchonBakery Cookbook. I had heard of it, as any aspiring baker should have by now, and everything I read made it seem like it had the potential to be great: a world-renowned chef as its author, establishments with its name all across America (including in the heart of New York City, about 5 blocks from my school), and a collection of recipes with enticing names. But I had no idea I would fall in love with it so quickly.

Guys, let’s be real here for a minute. This book is beautiful. Seriously. First off, it’s huge – I mean, this is coffee table material we’re talking about. Secondly, the photos, larger-than-life-sized and colorful, will make your mouth water at first glance. No, Thomas Keller did not pay me to write this (although between you and me, I totally wish he had) – this was all just to get to my main point. These blow-your-mind, fantastic cookies.

A while ago, I made the book’s recipe for pecan sandies. I loved it, I photographed the cookies, my hard drive crashed. Until I get up the energy to make that recipe again, I decided to go with these, the extremely gourmet version of my beloved oreo. These chocolate cookies have an intense, deep flavor with more than just a hint of salt. The filling is made with white chocolate, but, much to my relief, is not cloyingly sweet – it balances out the cookie perfectly. So, is this recipe, and this book, love at first sight? It just might be… why don’t you find out for yourself?

                                                             (from Bouchon Bakery)

White Chocolate Filling 
4 ounces (125 grams) 35% white chocolate, chopped 
0.5 ounce (15 grams) unsalted butter  
1/2 cup + 1 teaspoon (125 grams) heavy cream   
Melt the chocolate and butter together, stirring constantly. Meanwhile, bring the cream to just under a simmer. 
Pour the cream over the melted chocolate and whisk to combine. Pour into a container and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, or up to 1 day, until completely chilled.

Chocolate Shortbread 
1 3/4 cups + 1 1/2 tablespoons (259 grams) all-purpose flour  
1 cup + 1 1/2 tablespoons (87 grams) unsweetened alkalized cocoa powder  
3/8 teaspoon (1.6 grams) baking soda 
8 ounces (227 grams) unsalted butter  
2 teaspoons (6 grams) Kosher salt (I used 1 1/2 teaspoons and they were quite salty)
3/4 cup + 1 tablespoon (161 grams) granulated sugar

Place the flour in a medium bowl, sift in the cocoa and baking soda, and whisk to combine.
Place the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Turn to medium-low speed and mix until smooth. Add the salt and mix for another 15 to 30 seconds. Add the sugar and mix for about 2 minutes, until fluffy. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.
Add the dry ingredients in 2 additions, mixing on low speed for 15 to 30 seconds after each, or until just combined, then mix until the dough begins to come together.
Mound the dough on the work surface and, using the heel of your hand or a pastry scraper, push it together into a 6-inch-square block. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, until firm. (The dough can be refrigerated for up to 2 days or frozen for up to 1 month.)
Position the racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F (standard). Line two sheet pans with Silpats or parchment paper.
Unwrap the dough and place it between two pieces of parchment paper or plastic wrap. With a rolling pin, pound the top of the dough, working from left to right, to begin to flatten it, then turn the dough 90 degrees and repeat (this will help prevent the dough from cracking as it is rolled). Roll out to a 1/8-inch-thick sheet. If the dough has softened, slide it (in the parchment) onto the back of a sheet pan and refrigerate until firm enough to cut.
Using a round fluted cutter, cut rounds from the dough. If necessary, push the trimmings together, refrigerate until firm, and re-roll for a total of 16 rounds. (Any trimmings can be baked as is, cooled, and ground in the food processor to use as cookie crumbs over ice cream.) If the dough softens, return to the refrigerator until the cookies are firm enough to transfer to a sheet pan. Arrange the rounds on the sheet pans, leaving about 1 inch between them.
Bake for 15 to 17 minutes, turning the pans around halfway through baking, until the cookies are fragrant, with small cracks on the surface. (Because the cookies are so dark, it can be difficult to tell when they are done.) Set the pans on a cooling rack and cool for 5 to 10 minutes, then transfer the cookies to the rack to cool completely.
To assemble the cookies: Place the filling in the bowl of the mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, and beat until smooth. Transfer to the pastry bag.
Turn half of the cookies over. Pipe 1/2-inch-long teardrops in a ring on each one, beginning 1/2 inch from the edges of the cookie, and then, working toward the center, pipe concentric rings of teardrops to cover the cookie (use 18 grams of filling per cookie). Top each with a second cookie and press gently to sandwich the cookies.
The cookies are best the day they are baked, but they can be stored in a covered container, at room temperature if unfilled, or refrigerated if filled, for up to 3 days.
Note: The shaped dough can be frozen on the sheet pan—wrapped in a few layers of plastic wrap—for up to 1 month. Transfer to a lined room-temperature sheet pan, and bake from frozen.
   -yield: 8 sandwich cookies

 Note: If making 8 sandwich cookies, the cookies turn out to be huge. To make smaller cookies, just use a smaller cutter and bake for a few minutes less - I believe mine took about 10 minutes to bake and were about 2" in diameter.
Another note: There's really no need to cover the cookie in teardrops of filling; just pipe teardrops along the edge, as this is what will show up, and cover the center part of the cookie in a big drop of filling to save time.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Strawberry Sour Cream Ice Cream

the ice cream was eaten so quickly, this was the only picture I managed to snap!

As a birthday gift, I recently received an ice cream maker from two of my closest friends (although, let’s be real, I think everyone who knows me knows about my culinary obsession). I was lucky enough to get this from them a week after my old ice cream maker broke! See, my friends are so awesome, they can read my mind. Kind of.
Anywho, one of these two friends came over to make sweets for the fourth of July. Besides chocolate lava cakes and the absolutely necessary flag cake (not the fruit one, just click on the link and you’ll find out), we also decided to test out the new machine with a batch of fresh strawberry ice cream. We went with a recipe that included sour cream, because (a) it didn’t require any stovetop cooking in the New York City July heat, and (b) it came from David Lebovitz. And if it came from David Lebovitz, it’s gonna be good.
As we had hoped, it was. The strawberries’ natural sweetness shone through, and their delicate flavor wasn’t overwhelming. The tartness from the sour cream complemented the berries perfectly, creating a creamy, fruity dessert that should (and will) be repeated often this summer.

Strawberry Sour Cream Ice Cream

1 pound fresh strawberries, rinsed and hulled
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon vodka or kirsch
1 cup sour cream
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

Slice the strawberries and toss them in a medium bowl with the sugar and vodka or kirsch. Stir until the sugar begins to dissolve and all of the strawberries are coated. Let stand at room temperature for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.
Pulse the strawberries and their liquid with the sour cream, heavy cream, and lemon juice in a blender or food processor until almost smooth, but still slightly chunky.
Refrigerate mixture for at least one hour. Freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Strawberry-Stuffed French Toast Casserole

They say that when it comes to gifts, the thought is what counts. In my opinion, eh, this is sometimes true. In some cases, of course it is, but in others, not so much. For father’s day, I wanted to make my dad something really personal. He always used to drink Pellegrino from the bottle, probably without even realizing that he was doing so; finally, I casually mentioned in a not-at-all-annoying way (I may be flattering myself here, but bear with me) that maybe other people wanted to drink from those bottles, and maybe he should use a glass. He decided to play along and start pouring his mineral water into glasses.

Where am I going with this whole story? Well, if you’re still awake, here’s the gist: I saw a post on pinterest about cutting glass bottles using nothing but acetone, string, and a little fire. I decided to make a glass for my dad to drink his water from, but make it out of an old Pellegrino bottle. Cute, right?!
Long story short (or not so short by this point), it ended in a frustrated me in the kitchen at midnight the night before father’s day, holding a still-firmly-intact seltzer bottle and staring at a pile of singed string. Scrambling to come up with a last-minute gift, French toast it was.

Father’s day happened to fall a couple of days before my sweet 16, so there were quite a few people staying over at our house that night. Instead of spending the entire morning dipping and flipping bread slices, I decided to make a French toast casserole. This is my new favorite breakfast! It’s super easy to assemble, tastes exactly like regular French toast, and can be thrown together the night before and simply popped in the oven in the morning.
This particular recipe was perfect for my dad, because he loves strawberries and doesn’t love too much sugar. This has quite a few strawberries tucked between the bread slices, and the custard mixture poured over the top is mildly sweet, but not cloying. Perfect for topping with a dusting of confectioner’s sugar, some more fresh berries, and plenty of maple syrup!
So maybe it was the thought that counted with the whole Pellegrino bottle thing, or maybe I should try a different way... but then again, I don't really trust myself with a glass cutter.
Strawberry-Stuffed French Toast Casserole
(slightly adapted from Brooklyn Supper)

1 loaf day old challah, sliced into 3/4” thick slices (the store was out of challah, so I just used white sandwich bread)
1 cup strawberries, hulled and sliced, plus more for garnish
4 eggs
3 1/2 cups milk
3 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons fresh grated nutmeg
zest of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
confectioner's sugar and maple syrup, for serving

Butter a 9 x 13” baking pan. Arrange the challah slices so that they are overlapping, tearing a few pieces in half if needed. Tuck the strawberries between the slices.
In a medium mixing bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Whisk in the milk, sugar, salt, nutmeg, zest, and vanilla. Pour over the challah. Make sure that all of the slices are just about covered by the egg mixture–add more milk or rearrange the slices until they are. If refrigerating overnight, cover and chill. Otherwise, cover and refrigerate for a half hour, or longer if you have time.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and take the baking dish out of the fridge. Once the oven is up to temperature, bake for 40 – 45 minutes, until the french toast is a light golden brown and has puffed up nicely.
Slice and serve immediately with a dusting of confectioner's sugar, maple syrup and sliced strawberries.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Fluffy Whole Wheat Biscuits

      Last week, I woke up late to a grey, drizzly morning. When I wake up late I'm often too lazy to cook anything before lunchtime, but this morning was different. Maybe it was the dark sky that made me crave comfort food. Maybe it was the fact that after a week of unbearable humidity, the rain finally cooled the city enough to allow me to turn on the oven without sweating. I don't know, but of one thing I am sure: sometimes all you need to start the day off well is a biscuit.
These are my take on the classic Southern buttermilk biscuit. They are made partially with whole wheat flour; not only does this up the health factor a bit (because let's face it, if we're going to eat that much butter, we might as well enjoy it with some whole grains), it also lends a nice nutty flavor to your breakfast.

I quickly learned not to roll this dough out too thin; my first tray was far from picture-perfect. Just make sure to keep a nice thick, floured round in front of you when rolling it out, and you'll be fine. Because other than that, this recipe is pretty much foolproof. Perfect for when you're still waking up.

  I like to enjoy my biscuits with a smear of butter and either some honey or jam; usually, I just use whatever flavor I have lying around. Feel free to top them with whatever you want, including but not limited to: eggs, whipped cream and berries, ice cream... but please don't do the eggs and ice cream at the same time. Because that won't work and then you'll be mad at me and nobody wins. So just bake up a quick batch of biscuits and be creative with your toppings - but not too creative.

Fluffy Whole Wheat Biscuits
(from Allrecipes)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
4 teaspoons baking powder 
1 tablespoon white sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup butter 
1 cup buttermilk
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F (230 degrees C). 
Combine all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt in bowl. Cut in butter with a knife or pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse crumbs; stir in buttermilk until just moistened. 
Turn dough out on a lightly floured surface; knead gently 8 to 10 times. Roll to about 3/4-inch thickness; cut with a 2 1/2-inch biscuit cutter. Place biscuits on an ungreased baking sheet. 
Bake in preheated oven until biscuits are lightly browned, 10 to 12 minutes.
 -makes 12 fairly large, thick biscuits

Friday, July 12, 2013

3-Ingredient Nutella Strawberry Cake

 I'm sorry for the absence. Really. Please let me explain. And then I promise I'll make it up to you with some really, really good cake.
   After my sweet 16, I had a couple of crazy weeks with tons of family here. During this time, my computer completely crashed. After a few days of having work done on it, I'm left with a completely clean slate, and a camera with a few pictures on it. The entire lineup of food pictures I had for a series of summery posts? Gone. So I curled up onto my couch for a little while. And then I got back into the kitchen to try to make up for my lost picture-taking time.
 I made this cake a few nights after my party, for a bunch of family members who were over at my house for dinner. It looked simple enough, it was naturally gluten-free, and, most importantly, it was a cake that required only two ingredients. A base of beaten eggs, followed by an insane amount of nutella. Sounds like a party to me.
    So of course I made it way more complicated than it had to be. When it came out of the oven, instead of just serving it as-is like a normal person, I decided to drizzle some more nutella on top. But it looked so chocolatey, I needed something to break the richness, so in came a crown of sliced strawberries. I also served it with some fresh, lightly sweetened whipped cream, but that's not really necessary.
     This cake was absolutely perfect for the crowd we had at my house. It's rich enough that a little slice will satisfy that chocolate craving, and I was impressed by how light it was made just by the eggs. Often when Nutella is used in baked goods, its flavor gets masked by all the other ingredients, but the short ingredients list for this recipe let the spread's flavor shine. My only regret? Learning that with eggs and nutella, I can have an entire delicious cake at my fingertips within the hour. Because that's an extremely dangerous skill to possess.
3-Ingredient Nutella Strawberry Cake
(adapted from Kirbie's Cravings)

8 large or extra large eggs
17 ounces Nutella (weigh this out on a scale), plus more for topping
1 pint fresh strawberries, sliced

Grease a 9 or 10 inch round springform pan. Then line with parchment paper on sides and on bottom. Preheat oven to 350F. Beat eggs on highest speed with stand mixer until about triple in volume, about 8 minutes. The egg consistency is the key to making this recipe work, so don't try to save time on this step.
Measure out 17 ounces of Nutella into a glass bowl. Microwave Nutella for about 20 seconds to make it more liquidy. Add in 1/3 of the egg mixture. Gently stir with a spatula in the same clockwise direction until all of the egg is mixed in and no streaks remain. Then add another 1/3 of egg mixture and fold again until no egg streaks remain. Pour in remaining third, making sure to scrape the foam that sticks to the mixing bowl into the batter, and stir until no streaks remain. Make sure to do this in 3 batches because otherwise the whipped eggs may lose too much of the air that has been whipped into them.
Pour batter into springform pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes until knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cake cool completely before removing from pan.
Warm about 1/4 cup of remaining Nutella briefly in the microwave. Drizzle over cooled cake. Top with strawberries, and serve slices with lightly sweetened whipped cream (optional).

*Note: This recipe makes quite a large cake. Feel free to halve it and bake it in a 6 or 7 inch springform pan.