Monday, April 27, 2009

Daring Bakers: Cheesecake

I have been absent from the blog and from Daring Bakers for the past couple of months for several reasons, some of which are actually acceptable. Chiefly, because I will finish library school in a matter of weeks and am currently searching for a full time job. When I have more free time and less anxiety, I hope to post with increasing regularity.

Anyway, I couldn't turn down this particular challenge: cheesecake! A treat I savor but have never made in my own kitchen. This particular recipe claimed to be foolproof (immune to cracking and other notorious cheesecake mishaps!) so I launched into the task at around 7:30 last night. Yes, today was the due date. As my friends will tell you, I am nothing if not honest. And consistently absent-minded.

I whipped up the cheesecake and a brownie batter simultaneously, layered them into muffin tins, and these little bites came into being. I kept it simple due to the aforementioned stressful factors, and also because I had a wicked cold this weekend and was unenthusiastic at the prospect of a complex cake.

The cheesecake recipe can be found over at Jenny Bakes. I used a tablespoon of Bailey's for the liqueur, and left out the graham cracker crust in favor of a brownie base. The brownie recipe is Nick Malgieri's (via David Lebovitz) and is my new favorite brownie recipe. I made a half batch with whole wheat flour, which resulted in enough of a base for the cheesecake.

I ended up with about 18 mini cheesecakes, and I covered half with raspberry jam. Delicious!

The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Earth Muffin Family & Friends III: (Double Chocolate Cinnamon) Bread for Noodle

I don't have a system for posting here and so I tend to forget you, blog, for weeks on end. This week I also missed the February Daring Bakers challenge (you can see some lovely flourless chocolate cakes and ice cream over at A Charmed Life and Dad ~ Baker & Chef).

One thing I don't often forget (although my mother's account may differ marginally) is my family. As previously mentioned, my middle sister Anna, also known as Nanna Noo, Noodlehead, Noodle, and sometimes Noods (not the most appropriate nickname to holler across supermarket aisles, yes, I am speaking from experience) stayed with me for all of January and now I am missing her constant company. She's in her final semester of college, and student teaching, so her life becomes more and more fraught with anxiety with each passing day. I know this because I've been there. Well, without the student teaching.

I constructed a care package for Noodle, which consisted of a heavily-stickered, reused toaster box, a hastily scribbled letter, and some of this bread, in muffin form. The muffins were the most vital part of the package, which is why I had to deceive the postal worker slightly, and inform her that the contents were not perishable. When they were. And also endure her ridicule upon viewing the heavily-stickered box.

Double Chocolate Cinnamon Bread

1 1/2 cups milk
1 Tbsp. vinegar
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup applesauce
1 egg, beaten
1 banana, mashed
1 tsp. instant espresso, dissolved in 2 tsp. hot water
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup oats
1/2 cup cocoa
2/3 cup brown sugar
2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. cinnamon
2 cups chocolate chips

1/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
2 tsp cinnamon

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit (400 degrees for muffins).
2. Beat sugar and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer, until fluffy.
3. Add applesauce, mashed banana, egg, milk, espresso and vinegar, one at a time.
4. Combine the dry ingredients in a separate bowl, and add slowly to wet, mixing only until damp (mixture should remain lumpy).
5. Stir in chocolate chips.
6. Mix remaining ingredients together to make cinnamon streusel.
6. Fill greased mini loaf pans 1/2 way with batter. Sprinkle streusel over batter, and add more batter to fill pans about 3/4 high.
7. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center of loaf emerges clean (muffins will take 15 to 20 minutes at 400 degrees).

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Lopsided with Love: Dark Chocolate V-day Cake

Valentine's day also happens to be my littlest sister's birthday. And while I no longer really enjoy the merchandising that accompanies this holiday, and rarely celebrate it, you can imagine my profound shock and horror at six years old when she emerged from the womb, hollering indignantly (she has been doing this ever since), on this special day. Where was our table full of chocolates and gifts? (Our parents could get pretty lavish back then.) Why, Julia was the present this year! And so it was for the rest of our childhood. We soon recovered, though, because Julia was a very cute baby.

ANYWAY I have been dreaming about this cake for weeks. I mean, the concept of this cake. Dark, moist, simple cake. Sweet, shining icing. Pink against brown. It was an appropriate time of the year to be desirous of this combination. I made it a week in advance because I was so eager.

Dark Chocolate V-day Cake

3 oz. semisweet chocolate
1 cup milk
1 cup brown sugar
3 egg yolks
2 egg whites
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup cocoa
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup water
1 tsp vanilla

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. In a saucepan, melt the chocolate (I used chips), 1 egg yolk, brown sugar, and 1/2 cup of the milk, over low heat. Allow to cool.

3. Combine sugar and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer.

Mix until fluffy.

4. Add the remaining egg yolks, one at a time.

5. Add the cooled chocolate mixture.

6. Combine dry ingredients (flour, cocoa, soda, and salt) in a separate bowl.

7. Combine water, the remaining milk, and vanilla.

8. Add this mixture to the mixer bowl, alternating with dry ingredients.

9. Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks are formed. Fold into the batter.

10. Place batter in two greased 8" round pans.

11. Bake for 20 - 30 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

Pinkish-Red Vanilla Icing

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla
1 dash salt
1/4 cup milk (more if needed)
1 lb. powdered sugar
1 tube red gel food coloring, and one drop blue coloring

1. Beat butter, salt, and vanilla with the whisk attachment on an electric mixer.
2. Alternately add the sugar and the milk until icing is thick and smooth.
3. Squeeze that ENTIRE tube of food coloring (and a little bit of blue) into the frosting. What a lovely color!

4. Cover your first layer with frosting, then add the second. Proceed to panic because it's a lopsided mess. Resign yourself to its imperfect beauty, after panic attack has subsided.

(Special thanks to my tolerant and helpful assistant/boyfriend).

Hope your Valentine's day includes something as delicious as this cake!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Eclair at Soleil

The lovely cafe around the corner from my apartment, Soleil, was featured recently in the Boston Globe. While the article is mildly doom-and-gloom, and uses Soleil's owner as sort of a symbol for all small business owners struggling economically, it did serve to alert me to this little place.

Replacing the previous establishment but keeping the same name is a questionable business move, to be sure. I think Soleil Cafe's food is enough to leave an impression on customers, however, and their sun-filled dining area is a peaceful place to read or contemplate life.

Did I mention that the eclairs are delicious?

Soleil Cafe
1153 Broadway
Somerville, MA 02144
Phone: 617-625-0082

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Daring Bakers: Tuiles

Tuiles are cookies that are molded when warm, to resemble roof tiles. The recipe provided this month (you can find it over at Bake My Day) was incredibly easy. I did not alter it in any way, except to use the batter immediately, rather than letting firm up in the fridge. I filled a pastry bag with batter and drizzled it out onto a greased cookie sheet:

These actually do need to be molded directly out of the oven. A cooling period of more than 10 to 15 seconds will result in a cookie too stiff, and likely to crack. I did find that placing the cookies back in the oven for a few seconds increased their malleability, but I would recommend baking only 3 or 4 tuiles at a time.

I chose to pair these cookies with a simple mousse, adapted from the filling for last month's Daring Bakers challenge. Light, easy, and tasty!

Maple Milk Chocolate Mousse

2 cups heavy whipping cream
2 1/3 tsp. pancake or maple syrup (or, substitute corn syrup and a dash of maple extract)
8 oz. milk chocolate, chopped

1. Heat 2/3 cup of the heavy cream until boiling.
2. Combine syrup and milk chocolate in a bowl. Pour boiling cream over. Wait 30 seconds, then stir.
3. Add remainder (1 1/3 cups) of the heavy cream. Stir again.
4. Allow mixture to cool in the refrigerator for 20 minutes, then whip using a whisk or electric mixer.

This month's challenge is brought to us by Karen of Bake My Day and Zorra of 1x umruehren bitte aka Kochtopf. They have chosen Tuiles from The Chocolate Book by Angélique Schmeink and Nougatine and Chocolate Tuiles from Michel Roux.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Some Books You Might Enjoy

One of my resolutions for 2009 is simply to keep a record of every book I read this year. I like to keep resolutions simple and easy to achieve! These are two recent food-related reads you might want to pick up.

Trail of Crumbs, by Kim Sunée, chronicles the author's abandonment at three years old in Korea, subsequent adoption by American parents, a childhood in New Orleans, and several adult years spent in various European locales. While I felt that Sunée failed to explore the depth of her feelings of being ostracized and homeless, and tended to skimp on dialogue, the images, emotions, and the sense of setting she creates are powerful. Most importantly, the emphasis on food in this memoir is indespensable. Almost every chapter is followed by a recipe. Her Louisiana days are filled with the Cajun masterpieces of her grandfather, school in Sweden evokes memories of warm winter dinners, her accounts of Paris cafes and luxurious, home-cooked meals in Provence define her time in France, and, in exploring her origins, she turns to Korean cuisine, fumbling through recipes with no heritage behind them.

The account ends abruptly, after several romances have died and Sunée feels a new chapter in her life has begun. As the author is only in her thirties, I find this more acceptable and less jarring than some readers. However, if you prefer resolutions, in any sense, this is a decidedly disappointing read.

Another, more inspiring food memoir is Diana Abu-Jaber's The Language of Baklava. Born to an American mother and a Jordanian father, Abu-Jaber spent her childhood in both countries, and details the influence these experiences, as well as her family members and friends from both cultures, had on her life, gastronomically and otherwise. As with Sunée's memoir, The Language of Baklava is punctuated with recipes, ranging across the culinary spectrum. I found I preferred this book, however, for its sense of family as it relates to food, a concept to which I find it infinitely easier to relate.

As a child, Abu-Jaber bakes with her Jordanian aunts, eats the meat her uncles have slaughtered, visits her midwesternly sensible American grandmother, and marvels at the many delights food has to offer. She battles with her father, whose traditional values and longing for Bedouin culture drive him to uproot Abu-Jaber and her family several times. There is a longing for home, for several cultures at once, for a place to call one's own, here, but unlike Sunée, Abu-Jaber finds peace in this tug-of-war, perhaps because she can concretely identify her roots. She somehow resolves, or at least comes to term with, the struggles of her youth and adolescence.

While the majority of my reading is fiction, I've found that lately I'm craving the truth that accompanies memoirs like these; the contents may be adapted to serve a purpose, but there is undisputable reality in the lives of these authors. Unless you're reading James Frey, I guess.

Anyway, I'll keep you updated on any other food memoirs (or other reads) I discover!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Get Thee to a Creperie

At the (previously reviewed) Paris Creperie, the amply pillowed benches, low prices, and tiny space create an atmosphere that is at once cozy and hip. However, the limited amount of seating does tend to make a casual diner feel rushed, and the turnover rate is high.

Since moving to Somerville, I have twice frequented Mr. Crepe in Davis Square. The first time, I was unimpressed. The prices were higher, the staff less welcoming, and I felt lost in the dining area, vast in comparison to Paris Creperie's.

However, the siren song of the really thin pancakes prevailed, and I returned to Mr. Crepe with a reluctant dining partner.

Reluctant?! You gasp with astonishment. Or, I did. My middle sister Anna is a vegetarian with a love of the familiar. This is a polite way of calling her picky and sheltered, which she is. She's staying with me for the month, an opportunity I intend to exploit to its fullest. I vowed to expand her tastes, at least slightly, by the end of January. We're starting it off small.

To Anna, a savory crepe appeared to be the equivalent of a wrap, which she loathes. I don't blame her, as I've always preferred hearty bread to the soggy timidness of the tortilla's bastard cousin. Sure, the wrap holds fillings in very efficiently, but it performs this duty with very little flavor, and tends to burst after the first bite.

At any rate, I explained to the disinclined herbivore that a crepe is nothing like a wrap. And I pushed her through the door of Mr. Crepe. I was aided in this endeavor by the contrast between the frigid winter air outside, and the invitingly warm pancake scent emanating from within.

We bought three crepes: basil, tomato, spinach and feta cheese (tangy and very filling); brie, apple, grape, and spinach (slightly sweet but surprisingly dinner-like) and one dessert crepe, filled with belgian chocolate, strawberries, bananas, and served with two giant scoops of vanilla ice cream. As soon as we collected the dishes, we realized our mistake. While we consumed the savory crepes, the ice cream accompanying our dessert slowly melted. We eventually elected to switch back and forth!

Mr. Crepe has a large dining area, a paid wireless connection, and bathrooms. They also serve coffee, espresso, ice cream, and soup. Although the selection of crepes is small, there are many options for a vegetarian (which I am, most of the time) and they do allow some customization. The crepes are larger than others I've eaten, which makes the higher prices (from 5 to 9 dollars each) less irritating. Additionally, I revoke my comment about the staff: I spilled some water by the garbage as I was preparing to leave, and the employees graciously declined my offer to clean it up myself.

Yes, something like this happens every time I eat out. Yesterday I dumped a mocha latte all over myself in the hair care aisle of CVS. I had to walk all the way home with my white tights transformed into cow print.

Anyway, I heartily recommend Mr. Crepe!

51 Davis Square
Somerville, MA 02144
Phone: (617) 623-0661