Wednesday, February 26, 2014

French Apple Custard Cake

 Describing anything with the word "French" adds a certain connotation to the phrase. This varies depending on the situation; French fashion is considered chic, French music is much admired (deservedly so), and let's not forget the beauty of France itself. When it comes to food, French cuisine is often thought of as not only delicious, but also fancy and super complicated to prepare. French pastry chefs have the reputation of being... exacting, to put it mildly.
 This French apple cake goes against everything you probably think of at the mention of French desserts. You won't spend hours folding egg whites or piping frosting, and this doesn't involve an ingredient list as long as the history textbook sitting on your desk (or maybe that's just me...)
  This batter is whipped up in a matter of minutes, and the most work you'll have is the quick chopping of some apples. The thin batter and abundance of fruit create a super moist cake that is almost custard-like, making this perfectly acceptable either as an afternoon snack or as an impressing dessert. If you're going with the latter, I like to add a drizzle of salted caramel sauce and a scoop of this earl grey ice cream. Because let's be honest, doesn't that make everything better?
French Apple Custard Cake

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
4 large apples (if you can, choose 4 different kinds)
2 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons dark rum
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously butter an 8-inch springform pan and put it on a baking sheet lined with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper and put the springform on it.
Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in small bowl.
Peel the apples, cut them in half and remove the cores. Cut the apples into 1- to 2-inch chunks.
In a medium bowl, beat the eggs with a whisk until they’re foamy. Pour in the sugar and whisk for a minute or so to blend. Whisk in the rum and vanilla. Whisk in half the flour and when it is incorporated, add half the melted butter, followed by the rest of the flour and the remaining butter, mixing gently after each addition so that you have a smooth, rather thick batter. Switch to a rubber spatula and fold in the apples, turning the fruit so that it's coated with batter. Scrape the mixture into the pan and poke it around a little with the spatula so that it's evenish.
Slide the pan into the oven and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the top of the cake is golden brown and a knife inserted deep into the center comes out clean; the cake may pull away from the sides of the pan. Transfer to a cooling rack and let rest for 5 minutes.
Carefully run a blunt knife around the edges of the cake and remove the sides of the springform pan. (Open the springform slowly, and before it’s fully opened, make sure there aren't any apples stuck to it.) Allow the cake to cool until it is just slightly warm or at room temperature. If you want to remove the cake from the bottom of the springform pan, wait until the cake is almost cooled, then run a long spatula between the cake and the pan, cover the top of the cake with a piece of parchment or wax paper, and invert it onto a rack. Carefully remove the bottom of the pan and turn the cake over onto a serving dish.
Serve with caramel sauce, ice cream, whipped cream... or all on its own. Whatever floats your boat.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Nutella-Stuffed, Browned Butter, Salted Triple Chocolate Chip Cookies

As a baker and food blogger, it's important for me to always be coming up with new recipes and flavor combinations to try. Whenever I'm lacking inspiration, my friends are awesome at helping me out - obviously they get the added benefit of plates of the desserts of their choices...
Their pieces of "advice" have led to some pretty great desserts. Recent favorites have included crème brûlée, pumpkin bread, and chocolate truffles... apparently my friends have varied tastes in sweets!
My best friend tends to be very specific in her requests - I don't mind this (hello, it makes my job here about a million times easier, as I'm not good with choices), so she's gotten to the point where she simply sends me the link to a recipe. This was my favorite ever.
These cookies in particular were made for her in return for a favor she did me a long time ago (because I was too lazy to make them sooner and she was too indecisive to send me her choice). We've since forgotten what the favor even was, but she certainly didn't forget the batch of baked goods I owed her. When she showed me the recipe, I laughed. And then I got super excited about making it.
These are insanity in the form of a cookie, and I mean that in the greatest way possible. Imagine a batch of chocolate chip cookies. Now swap in browned butter for regular; throw in three types of chocolate chips; sprinkle the tops with sea salt; oh, and stuff them with Nutella.
Not only are these just about the most indulgent cookies ever, they're also the most delicious. My friend was super happy to get a box of these handed to her, and I may just have found a new favorite dessert.
Also, these are giant. As in, the size of a jar of Nutella.
Nutella-Stuffed, Browned Butter, Salted Triple Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon of salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 tablespoon plain greek yogurt
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup milk chocolate chips
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips
1 jar of Nutella, chilled in refrigerator
Coarse sea salt for sprinkling

Whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt in a bowl and set aside. Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. The butter will begin to foam; whisk constantly. After a couple of minutes, the butter will begin to brown on the bottom of the saucepan; continue to whisk and remove from heat as soon as the butter begins to brown and give off a nutty aroma. Immediately transfer the butter to a bowl to prevent burning. Set aside to cool for a few minutes.
With an electric mixer, mix the butter and sugars until thoroughly blended. Beat in the egg, yolk, vanilla, and yogurt until combined. Add the dry ingredients slowly and beat on low-speed just until combined. Gently fold in all of the chocolate chips.
Chill dough for 2 hours in the refrigerator.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Once dough is chilled measure about 1 1/2 tablespoons of dough and roll into a ball. Flatten the dough ball very thinly into the palm of your hand. Place about 1 teaspoon of chilled Nutella in the middle and fold dough around it; gently roll into a ball — it doesn’t have to be perfect. Make sure that the Nutella is not leaking out of the dough. Add more dough if necessary. Place dough balls on cookie sheet, 2 inches apart and flatten with your hand very slightly.
Bake the cookies 9-11 minutes or until the edges of the cookies begin to turn golden brown. They will look a bit underdone in the middle, but will continue to cook once out of the oven. Cool the cookies on the sheets at least 2 minutes. Sprinkle with a little sea salt. Remove the cooled cookies from the baking sheets after a few minutes and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat with remaining dough.
  -Makes about 18 cookies.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Earl Grey Ice Cream

 Seasons have always been a bit of an issue for me. I can't ever really get the timing of my feelings quite right - I'm in a beach mood in the middle of winter, and I've been known to sleep with a comforter in August. This used to be quite the problem, especially when it came to clothing; every year, my best friend (and/or my mother) had to yell at me to stop wearing boots in the spring or put on a coat in the fall. I'm telling you, teenage problems are so real.
Over the years, I've learned to embrace my lack of harmony with seasonal shifts, especially when it comes to food. Why not have soup in the summer, or fruit salad in the winter? Who says smoothies have to be a summer thing, and who made up the crazy rule that gingerbread is meant only for the month of December? Life needs a little spontaneity, right?
I'm of the belief that ice cream is a year-round food, just as enjoyable when you're curled up by a fireplace as when you're sitting by the pool. This one is creamy and just sweet enough, perfect for pairing with a fruity dessert. (I served mine with a French apple cake, recipe coming soon!) That said, it actually does include a little winter touch; the earl grey is a flavor you're probably used to getting in a steaming mug, and having it in ice cream is a little mind game totally worth playing.
 I'm a fan of earl grey tea in just about anything sweet (because everyone knows I'm actually an old lady at heart), but this ice cream is by far the best I've ever made. Winter or not.
Earl Grey Ice Cream
(slightly adapted from Gimme Some Oven)

1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup loose earl grey tea leaves (from about 6 tea bags)
5 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a small saucepan, warm the milk, cream, and sugar over medium-heat, stirring occasionally. Once the milk is steaming (but not boiling), remove pan from heat. Place the tea in the pan, cover and steep at room temperature for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. 
Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and vanilla until frothy. Once the milk mixture is re-warmed, drizzle about 2 tablespoons of the hot milk mixture into the eggs, and quickly whisk in until combined. Repeat 2-3 more times with more of the milk mixture, then gradually pour in the remainder of the milk mixture into the egg yolks and whisk quickly until combined.
Return the new milk/egg mixture to the saucepan, and cook over medium heat, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan constantly until the mixture thickens to a custard and coats the back of a wooden spoon.
Immediately strain through a fine-mesh strainer to remove tea leaves and any bits of egg, and then refrigerate until completely cooled (this can be done fairly quickly over an ice bath, or in the freezer). Then freeze with an ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions (mine took about 20 minutes), until it's the consistency of soft serve ice cream.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Little Almond Pancakes

I've mentioned this before, but making naturally gluten-free dishes is sometimes better (and often simpler) than trying to pull together flour mixtures and adjust moisture levels to adapt a recipe. I was recently making breakfast on a Saturday morning, and my mom requested that I keep it gluten-free so she could have it too. But I wanted pancakes. Um, issue.
Pancakes are one thing I've never been able to replicate really well using gluten-free flours. I decided to try a recipe I heard of a while back, that uses nothing but almond meal as a binder.
These are shockingly delicious. The almond gives a really nice flavor to an otherwise plain pancake, and they are actually pretty fluffy, with a little bit of crunch from the nuts. Most importantly, they get golden-brown and crispy on the outside, while still being soft enough inside to soak up plenty of maple syrup (or the topping of your choice; fruit compote would be delicious, but that involved way too much planning ahead for a weekend morning).
Little Almond Pancakes
(slightly adapted from The Nourishing Home)

1 1/2 cups blanched almond flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1/4 cup buttermilk 
1 tablespoon coconut oil (or butter, but the coconut oil adds a lovely flavor), melted
1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

In a small bowl combine the blanched almond flour, baking soda and salt.
Sparate the egg whites from the yolks. Place the egg whites in a medium bowl; set aside.
Place the egg yolks in a large bowl and whisk in the melted butter (or coconut oil). (Be sure the melted butter/oil has cooled to touch before adding.) Whisk in the milk, maple syrup and vanilla.
Add the dry mixture to the egg yolk mixture, whisking well to thoroughly combine, making sure there are no lumps in the batter.
Using a clean large wire whisk, whisk the egg whites rapidly until very foamy (about two minutes).
Then, use the whisk to gently fold the whipped egg whites into the batter until well combined. The batter will be thick; if you'd like to thin it out a little bit, add an additional tablespoon or two of milk.
Ladle a spoonful of batter onto the griddle to form a silver dollar size pancake (about 3” in diameter). (It's important to keep them fairly small in order to maintain the great texture.)
Cook for a few minutes, until pancakes begin to dry out at edges and the bottoms are a golden brown. They will cook quickly, so keep an eye on them.Carefully flip and cook another few minutes until done, but not over-browned.Serve hot with desired toppings. 
             -makes about 15 - 3" pancakes