January 18th, 2011 § Comments Off § permalink
That was nerve-wracking.
I made cinnamon buns, and realized only once they were in the oven that I had no cream cheese for frosting. Ooops. No matter — surely I can make some other kind of icing, quoth I!
I had no powdered sugar, either. And no blender to grind up the granulated sugar in the pantry for purposes of faking it.
To the internet! Surely there is some way to make icing with granulated sugar!
Yes. Yes, there is. It involves boiling sugar and milk together until it reaches soft-ball and melting more sugar and combining the two substances, and seriously — I am no candymaker. I am mildly terrified of precision in cooking. But I made caramel icing with a truly terrifying procedure, and it is delicious and incredibly sweet and overwhelming, and the cleanup process is a pain in the neck (thank goodness for the Faithful Minion J., who was visiting, and came up with an ingenious solution involving boiling water, I don’t even know), and I have learned things, and let me share the things I learned with the internet, in hopes that someone else without powdered sugar or cream cheese can benefit by my early-morning terror!
photograph by FotoosVanRobin
Caramel icing with granulated sugar
2½ cups granulated sugar (divide into 2 cups and ½ cup)
1 cup milk
¼ cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Combine two cups of sugar and one cup of milk in a heavy saucepan. (I used two percent; I don’t think it really matters.) Bring to a boil over moderate heat until mixture reaches soft-ball stage. (You can tell by measuring 232° on a candy thermometer, if you are, you know, the kind of person who has a candy thermometer; or test by dripping the mixture off a whisk into a small bowl of cold water; it will coalesce. Also, by the time it is at soft-ball, it will have darkened and begin to smell amazing.) Remove from heat, set aside. Place the other ½cup granulated sugar into a heavy skillet. Cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly, until golden brown or caramelized. Combine the sugar-and-milk mixture and the hot caramel in whatever cooking receptacle is larger. Add butter and vanilla extract.
Beat at high speed of electric mixer for 5 minutes. Beat with a whisk or fork until it thickens/stiffens and your wrist is about to fall off. Apply to whatever confection you have baked immediately — this sets very quickly, and becomes as mortar. Delicious mortar, but still: mortar.
Profanity may be added at any point; personally I think it adds a certain piquancy.
December 15th, 2010 § Comments Off § permalink
Social media is pretty awesome, for a variety of reasons. Right now, I’m in love with it all over again because Twitter reminded me I have been meaning to post about applesauce. Vanilla applesauce, to be precise, which I fed to several friends and then had for breakfast for the next few days and was very sad when it was gone. So I’m making another batch this weekend.
photograph by little blue hen
Applesauce is a great way to use up the half-dozen apples you have kicking around from a ten-dollar binge at the Sunday market (not that this has ever happened to me, or anything); it’s one of the dishes that I suggest for people just getting into cooking or who have disability issues, because it’s very forgiving.
At its heart, applesauce is just apples, water, and heat. I prettify it up quite a lot, but you could do worse than just heating water and apples together. Take your apples, however many — at least two, I’d say — and core and quarter them. I leave the skins on so the color and vitamins stays in the sauce, but if you like a silky-smooth or pale applesauce, you’ll want to peel them. Put the apple slices in a saucepan; they cook down a lot, so don’t worry too much about the size as long as they’re not tumbling out the sides. Pour in some water or apple cider, maybe half-way up the apple pile. If you want, add a few tablespoons of lemon juice. Turn heat to medium, cover, and go call your mom to say hello. When she gets to the part of the conversation about the neighbors you’ve never met, about ten-fifteen minutes later, take the cordless into the kitchen and stir the apples, making a perfunctory effort to ensure all the apple slices have come into contact with the water. If it seems dry, add more water, maybe a half-cup. Cover and flick through yesterday’s paper. Stir again.
The apples should be getting mushy; try smushing them up against the sides of the pot. If not, don’t worry about it. Add another half-cup of water if you think it needs it. Splash in a hefty dose of vanilla extract and stir. Cover and let cook for another ten minutes; taste. Add sugar and ground cinnamon to taste. Look around shiftily and pour a little more vanilla extract in. Stir, cover, cook until the apples are well and truly sauce. You can use an immersion blender or a food mill to puree the sauce; I generally don’t bother, but the peels I encounter might be more a problem for someone else. (I don’t know your life. I’m not going to judge you for not wanting apple peel in your sauce.) Eat warm, with ice cream or Greek yogurt.
If you have leftovers, applesauce keeps for a few days in the refrigerator and reheats very well.
September 29th, 2009 § Comments Off § permalink
One thing I never bother hiding anymore is just how much of a geek I am. It’s a pretty hopeless endeavor: last week was Bilbo and Frodo Baggins’ birthday — September 22nd — and I baked a cake and had a party.
No, really. I baked a cake for fictional characters.
And it was delicious. I am not embarrassed to say that my most successful cake to date was for fictional characters….who are not even human. That’s the kind of fun you have when you are me. (This does not mean that I will not bake a different cake next year, because while this was excellent, and devoured with all appropriate, hobbit-like speed, I was not keen on the frosting. I try to avoid corn syrup, and that was not the case for this recipe. Which is why I am not sharing the recipe here.)
Sift together 4 cups plus 2 tablespoons cake flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1½ teaspoons baking soda, and 1 teaspoon salt in a medium bowl. In a large mixing bowl, beat 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter and 2 cups sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, then beat in 2 teaspoons vanilla extract (I have what you might charitably call a “heavy hand” with vanilla extract). Add 4 eggs one at a time, beating well and scraping down the bowl after each addition. At low speed, beat in 2 cups buttermilk until just combined (mixture will look curdled). Add flour mixture in three batches, mixing until each addition is just incorporated.
Spread batter evenly in a buttered cake pan, then whack pan on counter several times to eliminate air bubbles. Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes, then run a knife around edge of pan. Invert onto rack then cool completely, about 1 hour.
September 27th, 2009 § Comments Off § permalink
This may have gotten the most universally positive response of anything I have cooked in the past several months, and for the life of me, I cannot figure out why. People asked me to teach them how to make it. Are fruit and dumplings really that unusual, that exciting?
Here are all my secrets for a dessert (or sweet breakfast, or tea-time pudding, or…) which is easy, comforting, gorgeous, and garners compliments like you wouldn’t believe. (I had to stop someone from licking the serving bowl.)
Approx. 1 pound stone fruit or berries
Approx. 2 tablespoons butter
Approx. 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Approx. ½ cup brown sugar (or granulated; I like the extra down-hominess of brown)
Approx. 1-2 teaspoons cornstarch
Approx. 1 cup all-purpose flour
Approx. 2 tablespoons brown sugar (or granulated, as above)
1½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup butter
½ cup milk
Roughly chop the fruit into chunks. (I used Italian prune plums; peaches or nectarines would also be amazing.) Melt butter and brown sugar and vanilla extract in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat; do not allow to burn. It will smell amazing. Add fruit, stir to coat the fruit with the barbaric caramel. Add water to cover about halfway up, and cover. Let simmer for ten-twenty minutes, stirring occasionally. When the fruit is broken down, uncover and add the cornstarch; stir until it dissolves. Simmer a few more minutes, while you make the dumpling dough.
Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. (I suggest seasoning here with cinnamon and nutmeg, but if you didn’t, I doubt it would ruin your reputation.) Cut in butter, and add milk until just moistened throughout. Drop spoonfuls of dough onto the gently simmering fruit and cover. Do not disturb for ten minutes. The dumplings should be dry on top.
This is fantastic hot with ice cream, or chilled with yogurt for breakfast.
September 1st, 2009 § Comments Off § permalink
photograph by stevendepolo
I can’t tell you how much it amuses me that Ben & Jerry’s is a trending topic on Twitter. It’s almost certainly because they just renamed one of their ice creams as a political statement, but I think I will go have some ice cream for lunch and laugh.
April 28th, 2009 § Comments Off § permalink
Families are odd. In other news, the sky is up.
I spent part of my weekend taking part in a family tradition that is not my own, and it was disconcerting; a friend came over to use my counterspace and oven, because hers sucks, and she was homesick for her family recipe of Easter bread. S informs me that “Easter bread” is “an old family recipe from my great-grandmother that’s been around for ages. It’s Lebanese in origin, but I’m pretty sure it’s unique to my family. I’ve searched for the recipe in old Lebanese and Middle Eastern cookbooks and haven’t been able to find it anywhere.” The Internet informs us that her family got a mixing of two traditions: Ka’ak was traditionally made by Palestinean Christians in honor of Easter, and Muslims of the Levant made Ka’ak al-Asfar to honor the dead, which recipe is more like the one we used, although we lacked a bread stamp.
I wish I could say that this will become my tradition as well, but I doubt it — while I had a great deal of fun, most of the enjoyment came from the company and the simple process of baking, not the end product, which does not have the Proustian power for me that it does for S. (Of course, my next post will likely be on one of my family traditions, which no one else will find as interesting as I do. But that is why I have a blog.) For five hours of rising time, this stuff should be spectacular, and I just didn’t find it so. I am, however, grateful for the introduction to mahlab, one of the spices involved; ground cherry seed is not a seasoning I had ever heard of before.
photograph by cesarastudillo
Oven: 375° Fahrenheit
Cream ½ cup of granulated sugar with 1 stick butter. Dissolve 2½ teaspoons yeast in 2 cups of milk. Combine milk with creamed sugar and butter. Add 2 heaping teaspoons of anise and 1 heaping teaspoon of mahlab. Mix in five cups of all-purpose flour; turn out of bowl and onto a floured surface. Knead until smooth, adding up to 1 more cup of flour while kneading.
Let rise, covered, five hours in a warm space. Form fist-sized balls of dough and let rise 30 minutes, covered.
Flatten each ball of dough and place on a parchment-covered baking sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until golden brown on the bottom and pale golden brown on top. Optional: Brush with milk and sprinkle with granulated sugar when warm.
January 27th, 2009 § § permalink
I am never doing that again.
The last time I was around these parts, I was making all kinds of sadfaces about culinary amnesia, myopia, whatever you want to call it. Then I visited family and ate comfort food and shoveled a millionty inches of snow, which left me feeling up to tackling smitten kitchen‘s rainbow cookies.
Don’t get me wrong: they were delicious (don’t click away! just because you know the ending doesn’t mean the rest of the story can’t be enjoyable! this blog is not a murder mystery, or if it is, think Dorothy L. Sayers!). They were just an unbelievable amount of work. And I cheated. Not only did I have a faithful minion, J., but we decided that 3 and 8 look enough alike that it would be okay to take the cookies out of the refrigerator where they were resting after three hours. Instead of eight. Yeah.
photograph from afagen
And yet: utterly delicious. Other than that (and running out of almond extract and probably not whipping the egg whites all the way to “stiff, glossy peaks”), though, I used deb’s recipe exactly. So I’m not going to bother reposting it; I will say only that this is easily the single most time-consuming recipe I have ever made (J. is going to show up and refute this, I bet you anything), one of the prettiest, and one of the most impressive. People have been shocked that rainbow cookies can be made at home, and then they’re shocked by how much work they are, and then, finally, they’re shocked at how good they taste.
On second thought, I may make these again, on three conditions: one, that the reason is a very good one (a wedding or a birth would be an example); two, that I am in someone else’s kitchen, with sufficient room and counters and a dishwasher; three, that I get to play with the colors and not use the traditional pink, white, green pattern. I think a purple stripe would be nice, don’t you?
October 17th, 2008 § Comments Off § permalink
Okay, okay, I concede, you win.
I shouldn’t experiment with rice pudding. I get it. If I experiment with rice pudding again, I will get what I deserve: exactly the results I got this time, and the time before that; namely, grainy, watery pudding that only gets more unappetizing as it cools.
To be fair, I used brown rice, which was probably a big source of the problem. I still want homemade rice pudding, but I’m going to have to wait until I finish the bag of brown rice in the pantry. Brown rice in savory dishes is lovely — I have fallen in love with brown rice for stir-fry, although I’ve yet to try it in fried rice, and there’s little that makes me happier than broiled salmon and brussels sprouts with brown rice — but it doesn’t seem to accomodate sweets, alas. I am apparently going to be one of those people with several different kinds of rice in my cupboards.
photograph by Rob Qld
While making this disaster, I started wondering about what makes a pudding pudding, as opposed to, say, custard or mousse; the definition is not exactly clear, and based largely on tradition, I think. However, in the course of my researches, I found this 1615 recipe for rice pudding, which I am now fighting the impulse to make. Someone talk me out of this.
Rice pudding: comfort food that is apparently very hard to make.
photograph by randomduck