Wednesday, February 29, 2012

midnight in pears - dark chocolate & pear cake

cake is pretty much always a good idea. bold words, i know, but they're true.

you may think that cake is too much of a hassle. you may think you don't have time to make a cake. that may be sort of true, but i'm about as busy as i've ever been and i'm still happy that i made time for cake. you can do it!

this cake was part of the spread at our friends' annual pun-filled oscar party. past offerings have included "precious: based on the liquor gin by bombay sapphire" and (from others) "tuna avotartare." this year i made this cake - midnight in pears - and "The Help yourself to some biscuits and gravy." other people brought "eggstremely loud and incredibly quiche" and "gary old ham," among other delicacies. a good time was had by all! oscar fever!

i wasn't super sure about chocolate and pears, but they actually go together remarkably well. this recipe was based on one from epicurious, but i made a few changes because i am incapable of leaving well enough alone.

one thing i always do with cakes (and particularly with upside-down fruit-containing cakes) is line the pan with parchment paper. this makes it so much simpler to get it out of the pan in one piece and it keeps it looking pretty. also, origami!

take a square of parchment paper that is a little bigger than your cake pan. i used an 8" pan with 2" sides. fold it in half and then in half again and again like this (so basically you start with a square, fold to a rectangle, fold to a triangle, and keep folding the triangle into smaller triangles):

keep folding until you have a narrow series of folds with a point at the end.

then just put the point of the paper in the center of the pan and use scissors to cut the end of the paper at a very slight curve so that when you unfold the parchment it fits neatly into your pan.
et voila!

you can also put the pan on top of the paper and trace around it with a pencil or whatever, but i think this is faster and more fun. also, who has pencils anymore?

butter the pan underneath the parchment, then butter the sides, then go ahead and butter the parchment as well. live a little!

now, go ahead and preheat your oven to 350. then cut up your pears. i used three bosc pears, because they looked best at the market, but you can probably use whatever. i don't really know anything about differences between pears. i'm sure someone on the internets does, though, if you're interested.

peel each, cut them in half, and take out the seedy area. i used a metal teaspoon and it worked really well and looked pretty, but if you are a Fancy Person with a melon baller, you could also use that. if you are a normal person, you could use like a spoon or summat. then just set the cut half on a board and cut slices as below. i got about 8 slices per half.

time for caramel!

in the original recipe it felt like the caramel recipe they use is a little fussy. it also uses a lot of water which is just going to boil off anyway. i used 3/4 cup sugar and 1/3 cup water and it worked fine. you put these in a scrupulously clean pan and heat it over mediumish heat. don't mess with it! the sugar will dissolve and it will start bubbling and be very hot and scary. eventually, it will get all golden at the outer edges. you can swirl it to ensure that it all goldens at the same time. let it get pretty dark, then add 1 tablespoon of butter, stir it in and put it in your prepared pan. here is a video for making a caramel sauce that shows the process better. this is basically the same, but without the cream and with different amounts of things.

seriously, though, this stuff is REALLY hot, so don't be tempted to lick the spoon or drip it on your arm or anything. not that you would, but don't. now that i'm thinking about it, you could probably also just put some brown sugar and a little butter underneath the pears and not bother with the caramel and it would also probably work fine. a little splash of bourbon is a good idea at this point, too - some for you, some for the cake!

then just layer the pears in there. i like to use the prettiest pears on the bottom layer, since that's what you'll see once you upside-down it. but you don't have to be too fussy.

then set it aside (if you use the caramel, the pan will be awfully hot, so put it on a trivet or something, for god's sake) and chop up some dark chocolate (~4 oz).

add it to 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) of butter and put it in a pan over low heat. or you could probably microwave it, but i don't have a microwave. i actually used the same pan i made the caramel in, because i am quite lazy. keep an eye on it, but you can mix up the dry ingredients while the chocolate and butter melt (unless you have the heat too high don'tdothat).

i just put all the dry ingredients in a bowl and whisk them a bit - sifting always seems a little frou-frou. once the chocolate and butter melt, add 2-3 tablespoons of coffee and beat them with 2/3 of a cup of sugar for 3-5 minutes. i always add coffee to chocolate cakes - it doesn't make them taste coffee-y, they just get more chocolatey. the original recipe says "until light and fluffy" but i just don't see how that's possible with melted chocolate. then add 2 eggs, one at a time, mixing full in between each addition, then the vanilla. if you have some chocolate extract, a teaspoon of that is a good call, too.

then add 1/3 of the dry ingredient mixture, then 1/4 cup of milk, then another 1/3 of the dry mixture, then the other 1/4 cup milk, then the rest of the dry, mixing in between each addition. this sounds like a hassle, but it really takes like 2 minutes, tops. then just pour it over the pears and caramel.

you can taste a little of the batter, if you like. it is very good. bake it for 45 minutes to an hour. i baked mine for an hour because it seemed very jiggly on top still after 45 minutes, but then i felt like it was a little dry, so i would probably take it out after 55 minutes or a little less next time. it depends on your pan size, too - if you have a 9" pan i'd maybe let it go for only 45 minutes.

it's not like it's going to be bad, either way. we ate it right up.

adapted from upside-down pear chocolate cake, by cory schreiber & julie richardson

3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon butter
1 splash bourbon (after caramel is in the cake pan)

3 pears

4 oz chopped dark chocolate
1/4 cup butter
2-3 tablespoons nice dark coffee
2/3 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla (+ 1 teaspoon chocolate extract, optional)
5 oz flour (1 cup)
1 oz cocoa (1/3 cup)
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk

listening to: i can't get this new santigold song out of my head. the video quality isn't great, but i like the girls with the fancy umbrellas and live shows are always exciting. here is what i guess is a more official video with weird animation. also phoenix (did you know myspace was still a thing? me either!)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

chocolate & peanut cookies

peanuts! chocolate! delicious salty salt! i like to bake and i can sometimes be in the mood for sweet things, but for the most part, my tastes tend toward the more saline end of the spectrum.* these cookies hit it right on both levels - dark chocolate for sweet and roasted salted peanuts for a savory kick.

*although mike did buy me a gigantic thing of twizzlers for valentine's day and even opened them ahead of time so they kind of dried out a little in the way that i find most pleasing. i never said i had perfect taste. i like quality chocolate and terrible artificial waxcandy. it's an illness. if i had to pick two candies to be the only ones i could ever have again, they would probably be gummy bears and dried-out twizzlers. it's gross. sorry.

oh, but these cookies are for-real good. i don't much care for peanut butter cookies (peanut butter chocolate meta-cookies aside) because i feel like they have a weird texture. these have more of a traditional chocolate chip cookie base but they end up tasting something like peanut butter cookies, without the strange sandiness.

i based the recipe on the New York Times's perfect chocolate chip cookies, but obviously made some significant changes. if you want a really good regular chocolate chip cookie, though, i heartily recommend those. they are aces. but so are these!

the NYT recipe calls for picky things like 2 kinds of sugar, 2 kinds of flour and chocolate fèves. i KNOW! what the h is a fève? apparently it is just a fancy-people word for disc. still, i don't necessarily want to have to go to a fancy-people store every time i want to make delicious cookies. so i just chopped up a giant dark chocolate bar. i liked it better that way anyway, because when you chop chocolate you end up with some largish chunks and some tiny bits, which makes for great texture and flavor throughout.

i also cut down on the salt a little, since the peanuts i used were already quite salty. i did use two kinds of flour, but they were just regular all purpose and whole wheat flours, not fancypants cake and bread flours. i like using a little whole wheat flour in cookies, because it makes them a little more nutty-tasting and it gives one a (false!) sense of health when eating them. also i used just one kind of sugar, because i was out of brown sugar. but if you have some, a mix would be nice. finally, i added peanuts, because yum.

if you have a scale, i really recommend using it because it is much more easy and more exact than using cup measurements. but i looked up equivalents, so if you are scale-less, you can try it that way.

these follow the basic rules of cookie-making - cream together the butter and sugar until it's light and fluffy (~5 minutes), then add the eggs one at a time, mixing in between each addition. mix the dry ingredients in a separate bowl, then add to the butter-sugar-eggs and mix until just combined (~20 seconds). it will be fairly dry and crumbly, but that's okay. then add the chopped chocolate and peanuts and use your big tough arm muscles to blend them in. sometimes it's easiest to just make sure your hands are super-clean and combine things with them - the dough is pretty stiff.

it's best if you can let the dough sit in the refrigerator for a day or three so that everything gets to hang out for awhile and get friendly (see explanation in the NYT article). but i was in a hurry, since i was making these for a work thing the next day, so i made them right away and they were still great. so it's up to you. you could even do some right away and some later - this recipe makes A Lot of cookies. you could also cut the recipe in half if you are worried about having tons of tasty cookies around.

when you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350. line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat. you can make these in whatever size you like. i wanted large but not gigantor cookies, so mine were about largish golf ball-sized. i rolled them by hand and flattened them down a little bit once they were on the baking sheet. i got about 9 on each large baking sheet and they ended up being about 3" in diameter once baked.

bake them for 15-18 minutes, depending on your oven and on how crunchy you'd like them to be. i erred on the side of crunchiness, leaving them in for about 18 minutes or until they were a dark toasty golden on the bottom. they're pretty delicate when they come out, so slide them onto a baking rack or something, but leave them on the parchment until they've cooled a bit.

then grab a big glass of milk and be happy. or bring them to your coworkers, friends, or neighbors and let them be happy. or both.

16 oz sugar - white, brown, or a mix (somewhere around 2 cups. with brown, you get more moisture, so they may be less crunchy than mine were. which is not a bad thing, necessarily)
2 sticks butter, softened to room temperature
2 large eggs, also at room temperature

16 oz flour (i used 10 oz white and 6 oz whole wheat, which the internet says is equivalent to ~ 2 1/4 to 2 1/3 cups and a little less than 1 1/2 cups, respectively. but get a scale! they're cheap!)
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt (kosher, please. table salt is gross. if you must use it, though, i'd go with like 1/2 tsp)

12 oz chopped dark chocolate (~ 2 to 2 1/2 cups. you could use chocolate chips, but chopping it yourself is much better, i think. chop so that most pieces are the size of smallish peas)
6-7 oz chopped roasted, salted peanuts (~ 1 1/2 cups)

listening to: okkervil river, clem snide. are you on spotify? me too!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

fennel & apple slaw with citrus

the super bowl is today and what is more super-bowly than a crisp cool slaw? probably a lot, actually, like guacamole or nachos or (i guess this is a thing?) an entire edible stadium made of things like cold cuts, twinkies, and pigs-in-blankets.

this is not at all decadent or cheese-laced, so it's probably more like something you might want to eat tomorrow, after the delicious orgy of gluttony that this mighty day inspires.

this is a very simple and quick salad that uses some of the greats of winter produce - citrus and fennel. a little apple adds some sweetness, while celery brings more crunch. a bunch of scallions lend their mild vegetal bite and some apple cider vinegar ups that slaw-y tang.

basically the majority of the time it takes to put this together lies in cutting up the ingredients. slice the scallions into small coins or slightly on the bias to add a little more angular visual interest. slice the celery (i used 4-5 of the small tender inside ribs - the outer ones are more tough and may be better saved for a mirepoix or something, although if you do use them i would make sure to slice them extra-thinly) into crescents of ~ 1/8 of an inch or so.

cut the fennel in half lengthwise (in the picture above, you'd cut right down the middle) - fennel bulbs are kind of ovoid in shape, so you're cutting through the thinner side. then cut out the core using two cuts going down from the top of the core like an inverted V. slice the fennel very thinly, going horizontally from the bottom to the top. here is a very advanced diagram:

i'm pretty sure we're on the same page now. also, i always save the fennel fronds and add them in for a wispy garnishy effect. the rest of the fennel cast-offs can be saved in your freezer bag of stock-makings.

so yeah, get your ingredients cut up. for the apple, i quartered it and cut out the core, then cut the quarters in half (as you can see in the bottom left of the picture below) and then cut them into kind of large matchsticks or so. you could also use a mandoline to slice the everything but the scallions, but i think it's pretty easy to cut things up by hand.

put it all in a big bowl and add maybe 1/4 teaspoon each of orange and lemon zests. you can use more if you like, but the oils in the peel start to be more assertive after it sits for a bit and you want to make sure that all of the other flavors aren't overpowered.

then add the juice from the whole orange (or half, if it's enormous) and maybe half the lemon. add about a tablespoon or a little less of apple cider vinegar and 1/4 teaspoon or so of salt. i sweetened it with about 2 tablespoons of agave syrup, because i had it on hand and it dissolves well in cold liquids, unlike honey. you could also use some sugar to taste.

and that's it! this is a nice crunchy salad with some pleasant sweetness and brightness from the lemon and orange. i imagine it would also be good with different types of citrus - meyer lemons, blood oranges, tangerines, or grapefruits would all be interesting to try. also some radishes might be a good addition.

1 bulb fennel
4-5 small inner stalks of celery
1 apple
a small bunch scallions (~5 or 6)
small amount of zest from 1 orange and 1 lemon
juice from 1 orange
juice from 1/2 lemon
~1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
~2 tablespoons agave syrup or sugar, to taste

listening to: iron and wine, the sea and cake, the slug and lettuce (two are bands, one is a british chain of pubs. but which is which?!)