Posted tagged ‘Baking’

The Cookie Contract

February 21, 2013


We’re going to be moving soon, and we have a horde of contractors working to get the new house ready for us. Since hordes are invariably described as hungry, I had the happy idea right from the start of keeping the guys supplied with cookies.

I took a pretty plate over the construction zone that will be my new little kitchen, as well as a glass pastry bell to keep out the various particles of dust, debris, and paint that are always flying around there, and I keep it filled with fresh cookies. I started with brownies, then chocolate chip with pecans, and then peanut butter. Our main contractor Paul especially liked the peanut butter (Alice Medrich’s recipe) and that gave me the idea of asking the guys for requests.

At first they were shy and just happily ate whatever I produced, and so I made crispy oatmeal, ginger molasses, and blondies. Then a new guy, Andrew the tile setter, appeared, and asked me to make chocolate peanut butter chip, something I’d never made before, but surprise, the recipe is right on the peanut butter chip package. Both he and Mike the sheet rock guy loved those.

And then today the painters, having eaten their way through a couple dozen ginger molasses cookies in a day and a half, had a request. Bruce wanted oatmeal raisin, and he was very precise about them. “A little under-baked,” he said “still soft in the middle, and made with Snoqualmie Falls oats.” Whoa! A cookie gourmet painter, alright!

So I searched the web for a cookie that sounded like what he wanted, and I found these, which 953 reviewers swear are the best oatmeal raisin cookies in the whole wide world, especially if you add a little cinnamon. Bruce didn’t mention cinnamon, but I dared to add a little anyway. After all, the bedroom’s getting painted a sort of cinnamony color and the cookies ought to fit right in.


Winter Pear Galette

February 17, 2013


I was perusing the March issue of Food and Wine when I saw a most enticing free-form tart, glistening and juicy. But then I noticed that it was made with plums. Huh? Plums in March? Not to mention that it’s still February.

But even so the recipe attracted me. A buttery crust made in the food processor that promised to be easy to roll out, a French-style almond frangipane layer, all topped with jewel-like bits of fruit, Jacques Pepin as the author, how could it miss? But February plums, at least around here, come from South America, and I can only imagine their carbon footprint, not to mention the evident lack of just-picked freshness. However, piles of pears are heaped in the store, now is their season, and I hadn’t baked anything with them for ages. Thus was the pear galette you see here born.

If you’ve never made a galette, this is a great place to start. Their rustic beauty is endlessly charming, and if you like your crust crusty and browned, the free-form fold-over style used here ensures that. Just be sure to use pears that are juicy and fragrant, as the frangipane layer is there expressly to soak up juice.


Winter Pear Galette*

Pâte Brisée
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 sticks cold butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/3 plus 1-2 T cold water

1/4 cup plus 1/3 cup sugar
3 T ground almonds
3 T flour
2 lbs pears, cored and cut into small chunks
3 T unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/3 cup apricot jam

First make the pastry. Place the flour and salt in the bowl of the food processor, then add the butter. Whirl very briefly to combine, leaving visible pieces of butter. Add the water and whirl very briefly again, just until the dough forms big crumbs, but before it comes together into a ball. Turn the dough out onto  a Silpat, or a lightly-floured surface and press into an flattened oval. Gently roll out to an oval about the size of the Silpat, or about 9×13″ if rolling on a board. If you’ve done it on a Silpat you’re home free, because you’ll bake it right on there, just set the Silpat on a baking sheet.  Otherwise carefully transfer the dough to a baking sheet lined with parchment, so that the sticky juices don’t glue your galette to the sheet. Set the dough in a cool place while you prepare the filling – I just put mine outside, because after all, it’s February.

Preheat oven to 400°. In a small bowl combine 1/4 cup sugar with the ground almond meal and the flour. When the dough has chilled a bit, sprinkle the almond mixture over the dough to within 2″ of the edges of the dough. Arrange the pear chunks over the almond mixture. Sprinkle most of the 1/3 cup sugar over the fruit, reserving a tablespoon or so. Place the butter bits evenly over the sugared fruit. Now fold the edges of the dough up over the fruit, pleating it as necessary, then sprinkle the reserved sugar over the edge of the crust. Place the galette in the oven and bake for about 1 hour, until the fruit is bubbling and crust is deep brown.

Warm the apricot jam and brush the edge of the crust with jam, then drop some additional jam decoratively over the hot fruit. Et voilà.

*adapted from this Jacques Pepin recipe

Punkin’ Chunkin’

November 14, 2012

Every year our son Eric asks, dreamily, wistfully, for the pumpkin pie I used to make when he was a teenager: Non-Dairy Pumpkin Pie with Olive Oil Crust. And most years I have some reason not to make it, like I’m craving something creamier and richer, or I think some guest wants a more traditional pie. But I no longer eat pie, so what I crave doesn’t count, and it’s all family this year, so I’m granting Eric’s wish.

This pie, although not rich with cream, is truly excellent. I spent years perfecting the exact spice balance, because it’s made from fresh pumpkin it has a special sweetness and texture, and you can serve it to all of your lactose-intolerant friend, who will beg you for the recipe. The filling can be made in advance and frozen, as I’ve already done, and the crust takes all of 5 minutes to prepare, with no chilling of the dough.

I don’t vouch for this made with canned pumpkin, although you’re welcome to try. The real deal is to get a small sugar pie pumpkin or two – you’ll need two cups of pumpkin altogether, so how many depends on the size of your pumpkins. Heat your oven to 350° and set a Silpat or a sheet of parchment on a baking sheet. Cut your pumpkin in half around the equator and scoop out the seeds and stringy goo. Save the seeds for roasting, and set the pumpkins cut side down on the tray. Bake until the pumpkin collapses when you poke it, about 30-40 minutes, depending on the size of your pumpkin. Scoop out the cooked pumpkin and set it in a fine mesh strainer for an hour or so. You’ll be surprised at how much water drains out of it, even after roasting. Okay, now we’re ready to make pie.

Non-Dairy Pumpkin Pie with Olive Oil Crust

For the crust
1 cup white flour
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
5 T olive oil (I use a very light one like Bertolli Light)
3 T rice, soy, almond, or coconut milk
1 tsp sugar.

For the filling
2 cups pumpkin
2 eggs
1 cup rice, soy, almond, or coconut milk
2 T molasses
1/4 cup white sugar
6 T brown sugar, packed
1 tsp ginger
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground allspice
1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 375°

In a medium bowl mix all of the crust ingredients together with a fork. You will have a soft dough, but it won’t be sticky. Roll it out on a lightly floured board and set it in a 9″ pie pan.

Make the filling in the food processor. Whiz the pumpkin until smooth, then add the eggs and get it all smooth again. Add the rest of the ingredients and whiz it this time until it’s really velvety. Pour it into the crust. Bake at 375° for 10 minutes, then lower the heat to 350° and bake for 40 more minutes.

You’ll find this surprisingly delicious, if Eric does say so himself.

Born On The 4th Of July

July 5, 2012

No, not really. Jessica was born on the 14th of July, which is also Bastille Day, but what’s ten days when it’s party time? And anyway, we’ll be in Newfoundland on her actual birthday, so we arranged a few special treats to celebrate the fact that she’s finally getting older. I made the Lime Mousse Cake you see floating dreamily above and it’s a sure-fire winner. The recipe is here, and I make it just as written.

And then, don’t ask me how we did it, we managed to have the most beautiful moonrise I have ever seen, really quite surreal.

It was a moon so huge, and so orange, that it looked photoshopped onto the sky, but no, here it is in its unadulterated glory, dwarfing the city of Seattle.  Breathtaking.

And then, a full 10 miles away but happily visible from our deck, the fireworks began to rival the moon’s beauty.

Lucky Jessica, to celebrate her arrival in this world on such a night. Lucky all the rest of us to have been there with her.

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

April 21, 2012

I love Shel, and Shel loves chocolate chip cookies. So when I saw these tiny little pecans, labeled Native American Pecans, only about twice as big as a regular chocolate chip and tasting intensely pecan-y, I knew it was time to bake him some cookies. Normally I just use chopped regular pecans, and so can you, unless you happen to see these adorable miniature ones, and then I recommend them just for their extreme cuteness and the fact that you can leave them whole.

If you’re a person who likes to eat cookie dough, you’re going to love this dough, which tastes at least as good unbaked as it does in its more traditional format.

This recipe, based on my tweaks to one I found online about 15 years ago, has a huge chip-and-nut to dough ratio. Don’t be tempted to use less, there’s plenty of dough to hold it all together, even though it might not look like it. Picnic weather is finally here, and these are a perfect take-along. Just don’t forget the milk. These cookies will make you very popular.

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

1/2 cup softened butter
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 1/4 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
4 1/2 oz chocolate chips
4 1/2 oz toasted pecans

Preheat oven to 350°.

Place the two sugars in the bowl of a stand mixer, add the butter, and beat on medium speed until very creamy, stopping once or twice to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the egg and continue to beat until the mixture is fluffy and light, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Beat in the vanilla.

Turn off the mixer and add the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. I don’t see any need to mix the dry stuff together beforehand, it’ll all mix in evenly and it saves one dirty bowl. Since Shel also does all the dishes, this is a Good Thing. With the mixer on low, blend the dry ingredients into the butter mixture until it just comes together. Remove the bowl from the mixer and stir in the chocolate chips and nuts by hand.

Using a Tablespoon cookie scoop, place the dough on ungreased cookie sheets. If you use a half-sheet pan, you will need two. You should end up with about 27 cookies. Bake for 9-10 minutes, just until the cookies are a light golden color. Do not overbake, on pain of losing the soft melting quality of these cookies.

Good Morning, America

January 7, 2012

Although when we’re in France we live right next door to a bakery where Shel can go in his slippers to get his morning pain au chocolat, one thing he can’t get there is a blueberry muffin. Or any sort of muffin, for that matter, but blueberry is his favorite, and he misses them. In fact, you almost never see blueberries in France, although they do exist, and so, as soon as we shook off a bit of the jet lag resulting from crossing nine time zones and getting plunked down unceremoniously in the middle of winter, I decided to make him some muffins.

For years I searched for the perfect blueberry muffin recipe, only to learn with each new attempt, that he still preferred the oil-bomb supermarket variety to any that I made. Even using fresh blueberries from our garden didn’t sway him from his conviction that the Safeway bakery department made a better blueberry muffin that I did. You can imagine the shame and frustration I felt (matched only by similar emotions when I tried to duplicate his childhood favorite, yellow cake with chocolate frosting, only to learn that a mix from Duncan Hines was the only way to replicate the cake he loved).

But then I discovered the One True Recipe, the one Shel prefers to any other blueberry muffin in the world. Click here to see the original recipe, and I’ll give you my few special tweaks to it below. I’m sure it’s perfect as is, but according to Shel it’s better than perfect in my variation. For one thing, I make mini muffins, so he can eat a whole plateful. For another, I use a can of those tiny blueberries instead of fresh or frozen large berries, And lastly, I top them with raw sugar, for an extra crunch. If you have a supermarket muffin addict in your household, give these a try. And if you’ve been searching forever for the perfect recipe, I think you’ve found it. Now, if you happen to have the perfect recipe for yellow cake with chocolate frosting…….

Better Than The Best Blueberry Muffins

1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs
2 cups flour, divided use
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 14 oz can blueberries, packed in water
3-4 T raw or turbinado sugar

Preheat oven to 375°. Line mini-muffin tins with paper cups (I get about 34 muffins  from this recipe) and spray muffin cups lightly with something like Spectrum canola spray. Place the blueberries in a strainer to drain thoroughly.

In a stand mixer, if possible, cream together the butter, salt and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. In a small bowl, stir together 1 3/4 cups of flour and the baking powder. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour alternately with the buttermilk, mixing just until smooth. Crush 1/4 of the drained blueberries and stir them lightly into the batter by hand. In a small bowl, stir the remaining 1/4 cup of flour together with the rest of the drained blueberries, then fold this mixture gently into the batter.

Drop the batter by the heaping teaspoonful into the prepared muffin cups. Sprinkle the tops of the muffins generously with the raw sugar. Bake muffins for about 23 minutes until golden brown.

Fruit Fireworks

July 4, 2011

Here’s the most patriotic tart possible, blue blueberries, red strawberries, and almost-white lemon cheesecake. You can make it in a flash and serve it on the 4th just before you whip out the sky rockets and sparklers, or you can make it in a flash and serve it on any summer evening. It’s also very good for breakfast, but I won’t try to lead you too far astray. Happy 4th of July to you, may your day be sweet and your evening sky full of fireworks.

Blueberry Strawberry Lemon Cheesecake Tart

The crust is the same as the crust for this Strawberry Marzipan Tart, and this is an adaptation of the same recipe series in, I believe, Sunset Magazine, oh so long ago. Sometimes the oldest stuff is the best.

For the crust:
1 cup flour
1/2 cup butter
2 T powdered sugar

Whirl these together in the food processor to a fine powder. That’s right, there’s no liquid at all in this crust. Press the powder firmly into a tart pan and chill for 15 minutes. Preheat the oven to 425° and bake the chilled crust for 8-10 minutes, until lightly golden.

For the filling:
8 oz cream cheese
3/4 cup sugar
3 eggs
2 tsp lemon zest
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
blueberries, strawberries, and jelly to glaze

While the crust is baking, whirl all of the filling ingredients except the fruit and the jelly together in the food processor. When the tart shell is done baking, turn the oven down to 350° Pour the cream cheese mixture into the hot shell and place it immediately in the oven. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until filling is set but not browned. Let cool completely.

Arrange the fruit to your liking. Melt a small amount of jelly (guava is good) and brush it carefully over the fruit to make it shiny. And there you have it.