Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Best Thing I Ate for Christmas

Hawaiian-Vanilla ice cream with Lemon-Ginger Sauce and crystallized ginger

No, I did not make the ice cream. I don’t do that. If I had an ice cream maker I might be tempted to use it, and then there would be way too much ice cream in the house. I do buy ice cream for special occasions, although I try to keep that indulgence to a few times a year.

This is Roselani Hawaiian Vanilla. It’s a beautiful creamy, almost ecru shade of ivory, amply speckled with vanilla bean and a luscious foil to any other flavor you might think to pair with it.

I thought “lemon” because the lemon tree is our yard is producing lemons the size of softballs. Seriously, some of them are huge. Here’s a quick quiz: which of these is the lemon and which is the grapefruit?

Yup, that's the lemon on the left. Freaky.

Sometime in early December I had made ae quick lemon syrup by juicing and zesting a few lemons and adding a roughly equal amount of light brown sugar and heating it all to a simmer on the stove. Yum, but runny and rather aggressively sweet-tart.

I used some to make lemon-pecan cookies (no photo of those: they were not the kind of holiday lovelies you think of as “Christmas Cookies”), using the syrup both to sweeten the dough and to brush on top before they went in the oven. Uh, no, no recipe either. They were a basic butter cookie, with a generous amount of ground pecans and some lemon zest added. I was not in a measuring or documenting mood, as so often happens in this kitchen.

The Lemon-Ginger Sauce came about because I was pondering what to make that would involve lemons and/or lemon syrup, and while browsing through my dessert cookbooks was advised by Sherry Yard, in “The Secrets of Baking” that a lemon sauce can be made by thinning lemon curd with simple syrup. Aha.

I figured I could use my lemon syrup to make a thin curd, by whisking in some eggs and cooking over low heat to around 170 degrees. I started with about a cup of the syrup, and added one whole egg and one yolk, and -- here’s where the true inspiration came in -- about a tablespoon of fresh ginger juice (made by grating a large piece of very fresh and moist gingerroot and pressing the results through a fine sieve). When the sauce was slightly thickened and to temp, I whisked in about a tablespoon and a half of butter.

OMG, this stuff is delicious! And it packs a very gingery punch. The sweet, cool, smooth, creamy vanilla ice cream is awesomely perfect with it. Add some diced crystallized ginger on top and yum.

We had this for Christmas Eve dessert. I’d thought maybe I would use the remaining sauce to make some kind of lemony-gingery mousse (reheat with another egg yolk or two, add some gelatin, fold in whipped egg whites and whipped cream... yes, a day will come when I will need to make that particular vision a reality) but the ice cream combo was so delicious we simply repeated it the next day.

If you want to try making something like this, start with a basic lemon curd recipe, cut the egg quantity in half, and the butter to very little, use light-brown sugar instead of plain old white, and add a generous amount of fresh ginger juice. It might not turn out exactly the same as mine, but I can promise you it will be delicious.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Lemon Layer Cake

We had a birthday in the house this week, and birthdays call for layer cake. I made this one with fresh lemons from the tree in our yard.

For the cake layers I made the Whole Wheat Genoise from the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking book. The only change I made to the recipe was to blend a about 2 TBSP of fresh lemon zest with the melted butter before adding that to the cake. This recipe made a generous amount of batter. So generous it was almost too much for my mixer bowl. If I make this again (and I probably will) I'll adjust the quantity downward by about 20-25%. Other future changes include adding lemon extract, which I would have used  had I remembered to buy some). With just lemon zest the citrus flavor of the layers was not as pronounced as I would have liked.

This genoise is the basis for Daffodil Cake on page 404 of the cookbook. I glanced at that recipe but planned to use other sources for the lemon filling and buttercream parts, so didn't study the details. Now I wish I'd read the bit where they recommend soaking each cake layer with 1/4 cup of citrus syrup, which seems like a lot. I thought I'd drenched generously, but probably only used at most half that amount per layer and yes, the final result is a little dry. Not a problem if the cake is served with lots of icecream, but next time around I'll drench more thoroughly.

Overall, I'm impressed by any genoise that can handle 1-3/4 C of whole wheat flour, even if it's ww pastry flour. This did turn out well, and managed to not have the overly eggy flavor of the last genoise I made. It is a little denser than a white flour genoise: it does not slice as cleanly and should be flavored more aggressively.

I cooked the genoise in two 8" round pans (rather than the three pans the recipe calls for), so they came out about 2" thick each. I then sliced each into two layers, to make four total.

For between-layer filling I started with a half recipe of Master Lemon Curd from this reliable book (made a couple of days ahead).

I did not bother to strain the curd as recommended, because I felt leaving the little bits of lemon zest in there would improve the flavor and I knew no one eating the cake would notice or object to the zesty bits. The lemony-ness of the curd improved noticeably from the make-ahead date to the time the cake was assembled, so advance prep is not only convenient, it resulted in a better flavor, too.

When I was ready to fill and frost the layers I turned the lemon curd into a mousse by first soaking 1 tsp of powdered gelatin in 2T of lemon juice mixed with water. The next step with gelatin (after soaking in cold liquid) is to heat and dissolve, which I accomplished by pouring in a little bit of the hot lemon syrup I boiled up for the Italian Meringue Buttercream frosting (more on that, below). I stirred the warmed gelatin into the lemon curd, then used a whisk to fold in some of the (extra) meringue I'd made for the frosting. Mousse typically also includes a fair amount of whipped cream, but I left that out as unnecessary excess and well over the line into just-too-much-more-work land. I chilled the mousse until it had started to set, then spread some over each of three cake layers and chilled the layers until the mousse was fully set before assembling the final cake.

This lemon mouse made a not-too-heavy but very stable cake filling that did not squish out the sides even under the weight of multiple whole wheat genoise layers. I will definitely use it again, and look forward to experimenting with other flavors.

The final piece of this effort was a lemon frosting which was close to a disaster. I have not attempted a classic Italian merinque buttercream in many years and thought I'd give it a go. As mentioned above, I made extra (2 add'l egg whites) of the meringue so I could use some for the lemon filling. The meringue turned out perfectly! I've used my stand mixer to whip egg whites before, but this was the first time I'd done a hot sugar syrup meringue with it, and the results were awesome, huge, voluminos peaks of fluffy but exceptionally stable sweet lemony whiteness.

Unfortunately, that's where the success ended. Adding the butter sort of seemed to go okay: the whites did not curdle, and remained a smooth emulsion, but the loss of volume seemed way beyond what it should have been, and the result, while not the "soupy" texture threatened by too-soft butter, was not stiff enough to frost with. So I stuck it in the fridge to chill up a bit.

In hindsight, I can see that's where I went wrong. I should have put the bowl of not-stiff-enough into an icewater bath while continuing to beat with my hand mixer as it firmed up. Left to its own devices in the fridge a horrible separation of liquid into the bottom of the bowl occured. This appeared to be way, way, way beyond the "curdled" effect that buttercream troubleshooting tips say can be saved, and I was running out of patience, so I drained off the liquid and beat in another stick of butter and some confectioner's sugar.

At that point it was still a bit soft but I could see it would be way too much quantity by the time I got it to a spreadable consistency, so I removed half of what was in the bowl to a freezer container for some future use. To the remaining portion I mixed in a quickie white chocolate ganache I made by melting a bag of white choc chips in some heavy cream. I have great faith in the firm-up potential of ganache and it did chill up beautifully. The final result -- half failed lemon buttercream and half white choc ganache -- handled extremely well, did not sag or droop or end up in a pool on the cake platter, and tasted divine, with an exceptionally smooth texture and a lovely subtle flavor hinting of vanilla, white chocolate (which can be too cloying on its own), and lemon with no one element dominating. Too bad this exact frosting will never be duplicated, as it is well worth eating again and again, but that's what usually happens when I cook.

Although I will do some things differently next time I make a lemon layer cake (which will not be for a good long while, layer cakes being way too much work for anything other than special occasions, although they can be a fun way to make a mess of the kitchen), this was a delicious cake and we ate a lot of it. Leftovers have been divvied up into more reasonable portions and frozen for future cake night indulgence.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Farewell, my toasty friend

My toaster, a Cuisinart model from the late 1980s, died yesterday. I am very sad. And guilty: I suspect I killed it when I turned it downside up over the trash bin and shook it to get the crumbs out. I'm so sorry...

This toaster served me well for many, many years. About twenty of 'em, in fact. I bought it at the flagship Macy's in NYC (I lived in Brooklyn then), and I think I paid $39 for it, which was a lot for a basic toaster in those days but works out to only half a penny per day.

The plastic knob on the lever came off several years ago, but the lever still worked, so we kept using it. And the chrome finish, as you can see, has been no match for the humid ocean air here in Hilo. Even the shiniest bits are no longer very shiny. (Ignore, please, the streaks of flour dusting Hercules, perched to the left; I'm in the midst of making bread and haven't cleaned up yet.)

My husband has been dropping new toaster hints for some time now, but the grungier and more pathetic-looking this one got, the more loyal to it I became. It worked so well still, and I felt compelled to reward its stalwart service with continued use and appreciation.

But the dreaded day has finally come, and we have replaced it. Our new toaster is a KitchenAid, sleek and black and shiny, and it works fine, but I'm having a hard time warming up to it. It's from Macy's, too (the Hilo outpost, which we're glad to have in town, but which is much, much, smaller than the Herald Square store, with only three toaster models to choose from). I paid $50 dollars for this one (sale price). I wonder if I'll get 20 years of use from it....

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Pineapple-Mango Upside Down Cake

I was all set to make an apple dessert the other day. But apples keep for close to forever in the fridge, whereas the white pineapple and a lone mango in my fruit dish were aging quickly and needed to be put to use soon or end up in the trash.

So I made a Pineapple-Mango Upsidedown Cake instead. As you can see, it's the kind of "cake" that is at its best spooned into a bowl and topped with the creamy dairy product of your choice. My husband ate his from a plate, with a fork, and without the topping, but I think he was missing out. I've tagged this post as both "breakfast" and "dessert" because the result has performed delectably in both functions.

There's no precise recipe for this, as I was in my typical slapdash baking mood, and didn't bother to measure anything. For those who are curious, here's my best guess at what I did:

1) Lavishly buttered a 9x13 baking dish.

2) Cut up approx. 4 cups combined fresh mango and pineapple, in roughly 1" pieces, which was extremely juicy so I set it in a strainer over a bowl to catch the juice. Went off to do something else for about 20 minutes, then put the drained fruit in the baking dish and sprinkled with two handfuls of macadamia nut pieces.

3) Added the reserved juice (1/3 C?) to some light brown sugar mixed with lemon juice and zest (which was loitering in the fridge as an uncooked syrup waiting for me to do something interesting with it; quantity is anyone's guess), and brought it all to a boil in a small saucepan to reduce for a few minutes. Don't ask me how long; I didn't time it. Stirred in about a tablespoon of unsalted butter and set it aside to cool slightly.

4) Cracked three eggs into the bowl of my stand mixer, added a splash of vanilla extract, and whipped on high with the whisk attachment, while drizzling in most of the sugar-juice syrupy stuff (still warm, but not so hot it would cook the eggs on contact). Let Hercules (my mixer) run for a few minutes, and drizzled the remaining syrup (a few TB) over the fruit.

5) When eggs were very light and foamy (though not greatly increased in volume, probably because the fruit syrup had a lot more moisture in it than straight sugar would have), I added about 3/4 C ww pastry flour and tapped in some baking powder straight from the cannister.

6) Ran the machine on medium briefly to mix it all up, then poured the batter over the fruit and baked at 360 for 40 minutes, until a lovely brown on top.

Experienced cooks will recognize this as a very haphazard sponge cake. The result was a very light, not too sweet cake with a delicate fruity aroma/flavor. The fruit was nicely cooked without disintegrating, and the whole thing was not overly juicy or mushy. I'll definitely take this approach again, although next time I might reduce the fruit syrup a bit more before adding to the eggs.

I doubt this would win any cooking awards, but for a slapdash effort it turned out extremely well. We've been enjoying it both as dessert and breakfast, with plain yogurt. It's the kind of dessert that is awesome warm from the oven with vanilla icecream, but that's not the sort of thing I keep in the house.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

There's a reason...

... I don't trust cake recipes that call for adding a whole lot of hot water at the end. I've tried a few of these, and although Taraka's birthday cake turned out well it did lead to some improvisations. And the last two times I've made a cupcake version they've turned out like this:
(These are from about a month ago. I found the photo in the camera today.)

Flavor is good, hard to go wrong with dense dark chocolate. But the sag factor is considerable. I'm willing to concede that I'm doing something wrong, but don't know for sure what it is: wrong oven temp, too short a bake time, something. But they're DONE, not underdone, and still, the collapse as they cool.

Not that it's a total disaster, because what's a cupcake without frosting, and with these, you get a LOT of frosting, because that nice big dimple holds a lot.

I'm not going to make them again, though. I wouldn't have made this second batch if I'd remembered I'd been disappointed the first time. Clearly I'd been so perturbed I'd forgotten to make a note on the recipe page to try another version instead, next time. This time I wrote that down.

Lots of bread

Fresh from the oven:

1) a (mostly) whole wheat sandwich loaf

2) a few dinner rolls because I could tell I'd made too much dough for my one loaf pan. The rolls will be delish with the leftover chicken soup we're having for dinner tonight.

3) an herb foccaccia, which is probably no more than 60% whole wheat, and which puffed up more than expected, so is probably nice and fluffy inside for those of us accustomed to eating more earnestly whole-grainy bread products.

Still rising: the other half of what became foccaccia, without the herbs and extra olive oil, which I'm hoping will turn into burger buns that don't so closely resemble hocky pucks as the 100% whole wheat ones I've made in the past. This is my last attempt at burger buns. If they don't turn out right I'll stick with store-bought. "Right" in this case means sufficiently whole-wheaty that we're willing to eat them, but with a subtle enough character they don't overwhelm whatever burger-shaped food product ends up between their halves. I like whole wheat buns, but they should be a background player, not the most prominent flavor in each bite.

There's no recipe for any of these. I bake bread two or three times a month following the "just wing it" plan, although I do use the "start the day before" two-part method from this awesome book. This time, as usual, I used both whole wheat flour and a generous amount of somewhat cooked (I poured boiling water over 'em and let it sit for an hour) rolled oats and oatbran, and some millet, in the "sponge."

The not-100%-whole-wheat aspect of today's baking came about because I do not have any "instant rise" bread yeast, only the "active dry" stuff that needs to be proofed in warm water. I don't mind the proofing, but I've learned from experience that the extra water throws off the moisture content of the dough, requiring the addition of significant amounts of additional flour, which ruins the wonderfulness of the "start the day before" method, which works better the less flour you add on day 2.

So, I thought I'd try using AP flour to balance out the wet-dry ratio when I did the final mixing today, and see how that worked. Additional water for proofing the yeast, plus quite a bit of AP flour to get to a dough (vs. a glommy, sticky, glooey mess) means I got a LOT of bread baked today.
It was, of course, way too much for Hercules (as I've taken to calling my KitchenAid stand mixer), so I started with half each of the "sponge" and "biga" plus some yeast/water, some olive oil and molasses, and about a half cup of sunflower seeds.

The other half of the starters I blended up with more yeast/water, a spoonful of brown sugar, several tablespoons of olive oil, and two eggs. I mixed that all up and divided in two before adding in any of the AP flour. I used one part for the foccaccia, adding some "pasta seasoning". The other will be the burger buns. I stuck that part in the fridge for a bit so I could get things in the oven in batched, so it's just rising now. I'd better finish this post up, too, 'cause I think the first rise is probably done...

Final notes on the foccaccia: pressed out a rough rectangle of dough and lay it in a liberally-buttered 9x13 pan, poked all over with a fork, then brushed the top with some olive oil mixed with a bit of sea salt, about 1/2 tsp of dried chipotle powder, and a large pinch of dried thyme. A quick grind of fresh pepper over all and into the oven it went.

I just ate a piece off one end, and it's sublimely delicious. I kindof hate to say that, being the 100% whole grain believer that I am, but really, with all that AP flour in there it's light and yummy.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Picnic Food

I come from a family of picnickers, so getting in the car for a day trip means "picnic" to me. Here's what we took to Volcanoes National Park on Saturday:
~ egg salad on whole wheat
~ a half-bottle of organic lemonade, plus some herbal iced tea (hence the odd color)
~ "Ginger-Os" sandwich cookies
~ tamari almonds (more a snack than lunch, our go-to emergency provisions for any excursion, along with the next item...)
~ dark chocolate (can't leave home, or stay home for that matter, without it)
~ carrot sticks (an homage to my Mom, but turns out we really did eat most of them)

Missing from the photo is a small tupperware container of fresh pineapple chunks and a couple of forks. Apples are my picnic fruit of choice, but we're out of those.

We had a lovely afternoon at the volcano, didn't hike as much as planned due to windy and drizzly conditions at the main crater (forecast was for clear skies and 20% chance of rain, clearly a joke), so we drove down Chain of Craters Road a bit to get out from under the clouds. Ate our picnic perched on a lava-stone wall around an old, small crater now grown up with trees. Not one of the more spectacular sites in the park, but a pleasant spot for an alfresco lunch. As usual, I forgot to take any photos. I did remember to at least bring the camera with us, though, so that's a step in the right direction.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Too many bananas

We're on our second huge bunch of bananas in a month all ripening at the same time. When I say "bunch" BTW, I don't mean a "hand" of 6-8 bananas, like you might purchase at the grocery store. I mean a whole banana plant's bounty, many hands on a stem, in the neighborhood of probably 30 pounds or so of fruit, 60-80 bananas at a time.

There's only one thing to do: freeze 'em. I've been peeling and cutting up bananas onto parchment-paper lined cookie sheets for 3 days now.

Once the banana chunks are frozen I peel them off the paper and put them in large ziplock bags, back in the freezer. Freezing them on a sheet first, like this, may seem an unnecessary step, but it's not. If you just cut up your bananas and put a whole lot of them in a ziplock bag in the freezer, they'll freeze up in a one big lump. Good luck prying off a handful to put in the blender. Pre-freezing is easier in the long run. The chunks do still cohere a little bit, but not so much you can't retrieve however many you might want.

These will keep us in smoothies for a good long time. Fortunately, we consume a lot of smoothies around here. I add some frozen berries, a scoop of protein powder, and some plain yogurt (and water) to the bananas in mine. If I'm feeling a need to be ultra-healthy I add some ground flax seeds, too, but just as often I forget.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Felicia update

I'm pleased to report that we have enjoyed my favorite kind of weather: much ado about hardly anything. Felicia has faded to a depression and moved far enough to the northwest that Hilo is by now out of range of anything but the barest fringe of the edge of a rain band. I confess I enjoy all the drama of watching severe weather approach, but am greatly relieved when nothing comes of it.

Except a kitchen full of baked goods: I can now also report that Apples Felicia are delicious, and an easy alternative to pie. Some bits of the crust were a bit crunchier than necessary, but the flavor is excellent, it was not too dry, and leftovers for breakfast, with a hefty dollop of plain yogurt, are awesome, and worth eating two days in a row as I just have.

I now have an embarrassing supply of oatmeal cookies on hand as well, and am faced with deciding how many of them I dare leave accessible, and how many would be best put into the back of the freezer with hopes that I will forget they are there.

It's a good thing I have this workout on DVD, because I need to burn some extra calories today:

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Hurricane Cookies

Here in Hilo we've been keeping a wary eye on Hurricane Felicia* as she's approached from the east. Yesterday she was headed straight for my house:

* now Tropical Storm Felicia, I'm happy to report, and expected to weaken further before she arrives tomorrow.

Hurricane preparedness has been on my mind. And sure, stocking up on "non-perishables" is a fine idea if you think the power will be out for a week, but why not also bake up something that will keep at room temperature for several days? Like, say, oatmeal cookies.

I made a double batch, following the "Wholesome Oatmeal Raisin Cookies" recipe in Moosewood Restaurant New Classics fairly closely* without any additions, then split it in two and added generous amounts of raisins and walnuts to one bowl, and heaps of macadamia nuts, unsweetened shredded coconut, and white chocolate chips to the other.

* I used half whole wheat pastry flour, cut the sugar down slightly, and only used a teeny bit of cinnamon.

A double recipe plus the good stuff made about 4 dozen 3" cookies. They turned out great. These are the raisin-walnuts ones:
And these are the white chocolate-coconut-macadamia nut ones:

Both are delicious, chewy in the middle, crisp around the edges, lacy and chunky at the same time. I may have to pretend there's serious weather brewing around here more often.

TIP: these are FRAGILE when they first come out of the oven, although they firm up a bit as they cool. Bake on parchment paper so you can slide the paper off the pan and onto a cooling rack, rather than trying to remove the cookies individually from the pan.

Apples Felicia

I've had an apple dessert in mind all week. With hurricane baking already going on, today seemed like a good time to make one.

After some cookbook browsing, I decided to make something like the apple variation suggested for "Lauren's Peach Crumb Cake" from A Piece of Cake. I'm calling it "Apples Felicia" in honor of this week's weather obsession.

This is basically a shortbread crust and crumb topping with sweetened fruit in between. If you ask me, it's a lot closer to a pie than a cake. I'm making mine in an 8" square pyrex dish, 'cause I didn't feel like messing with the recommended springform pan, and my deep dish pie plate is in the dishwasher (I baked a round bread loaf in it, not a pie, or I wouldn't be making this dessert today).

I made my usual tweaks to the recipe, using 1/3 whole wheat pastry flour instead of all AP, and cutting way back on the cinnamon. Really, it's such an aggressive spice, a TEENY bit adds a nice edge to the flavor without overwhelming all the other ingredients. To make the base, mix up flour and sugar and then cut in butter until sandy, which I did by pulsing it all in the Cuisinart. Remove 3/4 cup to a small bowl and stir in your preferred quantity of cinnamon, and reserve that bit for the topping. The rest gets pressed into your (lavishly buttered) baking dish.

Fill with sweetened fruit and some small tapioca pearls for gel factor. I used three Granny Smith apples, peeled and sliced into 1" pieces (almost 5 cups total), 1/3 cup light brown sugar, 2 T lemon juice and 2 T of water, and 4 T of tapioca flour (which is what I have, no pearls in the pantry today).

Sprinkle the crumb topping on top of the fruit. I was going to do so when my inner health nut spoke up and suggested adding rolled oats. So I put the reserved topping back in the food processor, added 1/2 C oats, and pulsed a few more times. One of the benefits of not being a "clean up as you go" cook is that the Cuisinart bowl was right at hand, rather than in the sink and full of soapy water. I'm glad I added the oats, because I'm not convinced the original topping amount would have been ample for the size of my pan.

Bake low in the oven at 400 until done. I think this took about 45 minutes:

We're having this after dinner tonight, so I can't tell you yet if it's any good, but it sure smelled amazing coming out of the oven.

It never did get more than slightly bubbly, though, and the apples didn't cook down as much as expected, but I didn't want to leave it in the oven any longer because the edges were getting too brown. I suspect the bottom crust absorbed a lot of the moisture, and -- judging by the quantity of steam that came out of the oven when I opened the door -- the crumb topping isn't doing as much as a regular pie crust would to keep moisture in where the fruit is.

Even if it's a little dry, though, I'm sure Apples Felicia will be delicious: it's a shortbread-y base, with sugary baked apples and a sweet crumb topping, what's not to like? A good dollop of yogurt on top will add any necessary additional moisture (so would vanilla ice cream, but plain old yogurt is what's in my fridge).

This was so much easier to throw together than a traditional pie that unless it's truly awful (and how could it be?), I am already thinking of making it again. When I do, I'm going to add a cup or two of frozen blueberries or raspberries, which I think will produce a better, blubblier, center.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Banana-Pineapple Muffins

Our new house has fruit trees in the yard, hooray. Here's DH picking soursop. They're too big for our pole-picker, so he figured he should climb up there after them:

But seriously, how many bananas and soursop can two people eat? If these all ripen at once we're in trouble

I already had too many yellow ones on the counter. This was handled by making banana-pineapple muffins.

Loosely based on my TNT (tried and true) Banana Cake. We had some not-so-fresh fresh pineapple in the fridge, so I added about 2 cups of that, then cut way back on the liquid ingredients, used only about 1/4 cup safflower oil for fat, and cut sugar in half (figuring bananas and pineapple are both sweet).

The muffins turned out fine, but not quite worth making again, so I'm not posting a detailed recipe. You can taste both fruits in good balance, but with so little fat and sugar they're kindawimpy. Some chopped pecans would have been a good addition, but I didn't have any on hand. I've been eating these cut in half and smeared with cream cheese, because otherwise even two of them just don't add up to breakfast.

another move

I knew as soon as I knew we were moving (again) that May would be consumed by planning and packing, June by moving, outcleaning, and unpacking, and that July would be a mad scramble to catch up on everything that got pushed to the back burner during May and June because moving is such a flippin' time-and-energy eater.

I'm pleasantly surprised that, as we edge into the end of July, I'm on the verge of feeling caught up. Yay.

And double, triple, quadruple "yay" that finally we are in a house that we love and want to stay in forever. Don't know how or when we'll be in a position to buy it (for now, we're renting) but that's the plan.

There are so many "best parts" of this house, but one is the kitchen. Bright, spacious, incredibly functional, plenty of storage and counterspace for all of our many appliances. After the horrible kitchen in the previous house -- dark, poor use of space, horrible spidery musty cabinets I couldn't bear to put my dishes in (note to owner: good appliances alone do not make a decent kitchen!) -- it is such a joy to be in this one.

I haven't done much creative cooking lately (lots of the same old, same old meals around here), but have a few items to share, coming up.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Lilikoi Cupcakes

I wasn't sure, until it had defrosted, whether that container of deep orange something from the freezer was tangerine or lilikoi (passionfruit), but it was the latter: cupcakes seemed like the perfect thing to make from it. I'm especially happy with the frosting, which is a completely natural (no food coloring needed!) beautiful yellow, with a very intense tart-sweet lilikoi flavor. I might top it someday, but right now I think it's the best frosting I've ever made.

(makes 1 dozen; preheat oven to 350)

1 C whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 C all purpose flour
2 T cornstarch
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 stick unsalted butter (soft)
3/4 C light brown sugar
3 eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 C lilikoi juice

Sift together the dry ingredients and set aside. In bowl of stand mixer, beat butter and sugar until very light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each. Add half the flour mixture and blend on low (or by hand) just until mixed in. Add the lilikoi juice and vanilla and mix in. Add the rest of the flour and blend just until mixed.

Spoon into prepared muffin tins (I used fluted paper liners) and bake for 22-25 minutes, or until done (tops should be lightly browned).


1/2 C lilikoi juice
1/4 C light brown sugar
1-1/2 sticks (12 T) unsalted butter, soft
2 T heavy cream
2-1/2 cups confectioner's sugar

Mix the lilikoi juice and brown sugar together in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Boil, stirring frequently, until syrupy. (I don't have a candy thermometer, so had to guess when it was done enough -- a drop into ice water just held together rather than dissolving, probably not quite to "soft ball" stage.) Set aside to cool to room temp.

In bowl of stand mixer, with paddle attachment, beat butter and 1 C of the confectioner's sugar until well blended. Mix in the cream and another C of the sugar.

Very slowly, just a little bit at a time, pour the lilikoi syrup into the butter/sugar mix, with the mixer running. Take your time with this, especially if the syrup is still a bit warm: you don't want to melt the butter. When all the syrup has been incorporated, add the rest of the confectioner's sugar and blend in.

This frosting will be very soft, but the high butter content means it gets quite stiff when cold. Refrigerate briefly if it seems too runny to work with (mine was fine at room temp), but don't overchill or it will not be spreadable.

BTW: Both the cupcake and frosting recipes use light brown sugar 'cause I don't have any white sugar in the house at the moment. I think it adds a nice richness to the flavor, but you could substitute white sugar if that's what you've got.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Two duds in a row

I must be losing my touch: two duds in a row. The first was an attempt to create something called "Cinnamon Caramel Bundt Cake." I made up the name for a treat to be consumed by characters in my novel in progress. Future plans include posting recipes for foods from the book on an author website someday--assuming I get a publishing deal and create a website--and I've begun the mess-around-in-the-kitchen stage.

CCBC was supposed to be a pound-cakey kind of a thing, with some brown sugar, cinnamon, pecans layered in. Don't know what I did wrong, but for starters using a half-recipe seems to be a terrible idea with the KitchenAid mixer. I think it's just too small a quantity to process well, and the batter gets overworked. It's also possible that my baking powder has lost its umph. It's not near the expiration date yet, but the tin has been open for a while. The cake is okay -- hard to go wrong with butter, brown sugar, eggs, and flour -- but the flavor's a bit flat and the cake is, too. Hasn't stopped me from enjoying some with my coffee in the morning, but it's nothing to be proud of.

The pumpkin cake turned out a little better, but also didn't rise well , which lends credence to the wimpy baking powder theory. I followed my recent pumpkin muffin recipe, omitting the raisins and struedel topping and -- where I went wrong -- tossed in some no-longer-all-that-fresh pineapple that was in the fridge. Which threw the moisture ratio way off. So, that one's a little damp and dense. Tasty, and good for breakfast (pumpkin, organic eggs, whole wheat pastry flour, oat bran, yogurt, pecans, unsweetened coconut, pineapple... the only not very healthy thing about it is the light brown sugar). But a long way from a baking triumph.

The nice thing about baking is that so long as you don't mess up something truly crucial (like confusing salt for sugar), even the duds are edible.

I think I'll give up on the CCBC, though. It's occurred to me that I could hold a reader contest and get other bakers to send in their recipes, and pick the best one to post on my future author website. That's the mark of a master, right? To get someone else to do the work?

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Pumpkin Muffins

It looks like we're moving (again) in late May or early June. Only to the other side of town, but still, moving is always a hassle. It's a great house, though, and I wish I could move in tomorrow... instead we're hanging around waiting to hear from the owner when his current tenant will be out (still not certain) so we can set a definite move date and sign a lease.

It's a little too soon to start packing things up in boxes, but I've begun to look at my pantry and freezer with an eye to eating up as much as possible before then. Every frozen pea we don't consume before the move is gonna add to a cooler full of stuff to be hauled across town.

One item found in the pantry: a large can of pumpkin puree (the two-pie size). Making these muffins only used up some of it. In other words, I turned one can in the pantry into a batch of muffins and two 1-cup containers in the freezer, which feels like one step forward and two steps back on the "use it up" road. That's okay, 'cause these are yummy and I won't mind at all making them again two more times before we go. They're as delicious as cake, but a bit more healthy.

Pumkpin Muffins
Loosely based on the Apple-Zucchini Muffin recipe in Moosewood Restaurant New Classics. (makes one dozen)

Preheat oven to 350. Line a 12-muffin tin with fluted paper cups. Mix up the Streusel Topping (at end of post) and set aside, ready to go.

In a large mixing bowl, sift together or mix up well with a fork:
1-1/2 C whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 C oat bran
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon

Stir in:
1/2 C chopped pecans (or 1/2 C pecans, chopped, either way; it matters in some recipes, but not this one)
1/2 C golden raisins
1/4 finely shredded unsweetened coconut
Set aside.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the following and blend well:
2 eggs
1/2 C yogurt
1/4 C safflower oil
3/4 C light brown sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 C pumpkin puree

Scrape the wet stuff into the bowl with dry ingredients, and stir to combine (briefly with a fork, then with a rubber spatula to make sure the dry stuff at the bottom is all mixed in).

Spoon batter into muffin cups (they will be full) and top with Struesel topping (below).

Bake for 35 minutes or until done, rotating pan half-way through cooking time. Cool in pan on a rack for a few minutes, then remove muffins from pan and allow to cool to room temp on rack. (If you don't wait for the muffins to cool, they'll fall apart when you try to peel off the paper liners. Guess how I know.)

1/3 C all purpose flour
2 T cold, unsalted butter
2 T brown sugar (light or dark)
1/4 C chopped pecans
2 T finely shredded unsweetened coconut
1/4 tsp cinnamon

Place all ingredients in bowl of a mini-food processor and pulse to combine well.
I've been eating these for breakfast the past couple of days. My husband (a die-hard oatmeal fan in the breakfast department) thinks they make a fine dessert. If dessert's your plan from the get-go, I suggest you skip the topping and go with a cream-cheese frosting instead.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Two wheat-free weeks

I've been eating, and cooking, lots of everyday food lately. Things like chicken soup with white beans and swiss chard (and misc. other veggies, whatever's in the fridge) that I don't use recipes for. You haven't seen a new post from me lately 'cause although plenty of good food has come forth from my kitchen, not much of it has been (to my mind) blog-worthy. It's all been tasty and healthy food, sure -- I'm a good cook, and we eat well -- but I'm guessing that if anyone besides me ever reads these posts, they might be more interested in a new idea or two, or a delicious recipe they can follow.

My only culinary adventure lately has been a two week wheat-free experiment, which I undertook for no good reason than I was curious to see what it would be like and how I'd feel. Hubby's been patient with it (he's a brown rice consumer, mostly; so long as that's always on his plate, he's fine), but I'm gonna need to get back to bread-baking soon to keep him truly happy at the table.

I thought I'd miss bread horribly, and I am feeling nostalgic for whole grain toast with peanut butter (my usual breakfast until two weeks ago) but the big surprise from this adventure was that it's the convenience of bread that I missed most, even more than the consuming of it. Toast is soooo much quicker and easier to make than a pot of brown rice!

Mostly I've just been avoiding wheat, eating more rice, and making do without bread, toast, or crackers (not as hard to do as I thought, but wouldn't wanna keep it up forever). I did get creative and make a brown rice and zucchini pizza crust one night, which was... interesting. Not horrible, or even bad. But not something I'll rush to repeat, although I might not be able to resist the challenge of seeing how much closer it can get to memorable (in a good way). And not anything you'd want me to share the recipe for, at least in that first rendition.

So anyway, this is my long-overdue post, the wheat-free weeks are up, and I'll be making bread (and toast!) again soon, but tomorrow I'm off to the Left Coast Crime conference (held right here on the Big Island this year, so yippeee!), so I'll be eating restaurant food until next Thursday. Oh boy: Pacific Fusion Cuisine, here we come! We're planning to eat at Roy's -- at least once -- and Sansei, and maybe check out Merriman's Market Cafe dinner menu (we enjoy lunch there) as well. That will blow our dining-out budget for a good long time to come, and be worth it.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Chocolate Coconut Surprise Cake

Given any choice of what he'd like for dessert, my husband can be relied upon to choose chocolate cake above all other options every time. This makes it easy to decide what to make each year when his birthday rolls around: some variation on chocolate cake with chocolate frosting is required.

This year I wanted to try the "Devilishly Moist Chocolate Cake" on page 121 of The Cake Book. The final result has been rated "best birthday cake ever," although some improvising took place along the way.

I was a little hesitant about a recipe that calls for pouring an entire cup of boiling water into the batter as the last step, but the author appears to know her cakes so I gave it a go. I even followed the recipe exactly, which I hardly ever do, even with baked goods.

The batter, after that cup of boiling water was mixed in, was so runny I thought surely there was some horrible typo in the recipe. I used a 9" springform pan and took the precaution of wrapping it in aluminum foil, because I thought for sure the batter would leak out (it didn't).

This bakes for quite some time: close to an hour at 325. And for most of that time it did not look promising. And then, at the end, suddenly it puffed up and looked like cake. Yay.

Well, almost like cake. Here's what the top looked like when it came out of the oven:
That rumpled bit in the center appears to have formed from convection currents in the batter as it warmed at the sides and drifted toward the center. You can see where I flicked a bit off with a fingernail: it's crisp and strange. Didn't matter, as I flipped the cake onto the plate top-side down in order to remove the pan bottom and peel off the parchment paper circle.

The bottom is fine. Mmmmmm, so moist and dark and it smells scrumptious...
The problem with this cake is it only makes one (generous) layer. Which I'd planned to split into two layers, but it really is devilishly moist. So moist that there's no way layer-splitting was going to happen in my kitchen. A professional pastry chef could probably handle it, but I know my limits.

A one-layer birthday cake, though, didn't seem sufficiently grand. I was inspired by another recipe in the book (Chocolate Almond Coconut Cake, p. 206). Here's the photo that got me thinking (red circle):
(Yes, I want to make the luscious Creamy Coconut Cake on the right, too. Another time.)

Anyway, the coconut topping for the Choc-Almond cake calls for light corn syrup, which isn't the kind of thing I keep around. So I browsed some more and came across Whipped White Chocolate Ganache (p. 318). Hmmm, cream and white chocolate melted together, cooled, and whipped. Why not add some coconut to that? Organic unsweetened shredded coconut is the kind of thing that lurks in my larder.

The Whipped White Coconut Ganache was another potential uhoh. Even chilled for almost six hours, it did not firm up the way a dark chocolate ganache does. And whipping it, even with chilled beaters, did not seem to work. (I would have chilled the bowl, too, but there wasn't room in my freezer after a recent Costco stock-up.) I almost tossed it as a dud, because the recipe warns against over-whipping, and I'd let the mixer run for a while. Then, just as I was about to give up on it, it suddenly came together and firmed up, just like whipped cream only more abruptly:
So, yippee for that. I folded in 1/2 cup of finely shredded coconut and topped my single chocolate cake layer with it.

The coconut topping is only about 1/4 inch thick, but that's plenty, as it's very rich. And exceedingly delicious:

It went into the fridge to chill up while I made a frosting.

Rich and Creamy Chocolate Frosting
This is my basic chocolate frosting method. It makes plenty for a two-layer cake, but extra freezes beautifully so I always make a large batch even when I only need a little. To make a darker choc version, use twice as much ganache or half as much butter frosting. It's very flexible. I usually don't even measure quantities, I just eyeball it. It always turns out fine: butter, sugar, cream, chocolate. How can you go wrong?

Step 1:

Make a dark chocolate ganache.Place 8 oz. of dark chocolate chips (preferably bittersweet; 70% cacao content or higher) in a small stainless steel mixing bowl. Heat 1 cup heavy cream over medium heat until just at a simmer. Pour it over the chocolate chips and let sit for 30-60 seconds. Stir it all up vigorously with a whisk until the chocolate melts and it all comes together into a smooth dark satiny deliciousness. Set aside to cool to room temp. It will firm up a bit.

Step 2:

Make a basic butter frosting.Put 2 sticks soft unsalted butter in the bowl of your stand mixer. Use paddle to beat in 3 cups sifted confectioner's sugar (about a cup at a time) and 1 tsp vanilla extract.

Step 3:

Mix 'em together. Add the cooled ganache to the mixer bowl and beat well until chocolate and butter mixes are thoroughly combined and a uniform light brown color.

I used this to frost my coconut-topped cake layer. I then melted about 4 oz. more of dark choc chips and blended them into about a cup and a half of the frosting to make a slightly darker, more chocolately variation that I used to pipe decorative rosettes around the edge of the cake. I didn't do a fabulous job with that, 'cause I'm not an expert piper plus it was a warm afternoon and everything was on the verge of goopy and I was in a rush to get it done and into the fridge.

The result: not the most spectacular cake ever, but fine for a family birthday. And delicious. Really, really delicious. The white choc-coconut topping is heavenly with the rich, dark, moist choc cake. I love how the coconut layer is a surprise reveal when you cut into the cake. (See first photo, up top.)

Let me say again that this combo is wonderful. Like a cake version of a Mounds candy bar. I did wonder, when I was done, if I should have used just a straight dark choc ganache glaze instead of frosting. But the cake is so dark and so rich and so moist that my lighter frosting is a perfect counterpart.

We enjoyed our cake with Roselani "Haupia" (coconut pudding flavor) ice cream. Creamy and subtle and perfect. A bit like vanilla, but not vanilla. If you are ever in Hawaii be sure to seek out some Roselani ice cream while you're here. Especially if you can find haupia flavor and some dark chocolate coconut cake to go with it.

I'm already thinking of other things I might use that coconut topping on. Sweet Potato Cheesecake, anyone? I've never made it, but have enjoyed the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel's version, for which the Queen's Court restaurant is justly famous. I bet it would be even better with coconut topping.

First, though, we need to eat up leftovers of the b'day extravaganza. Then we'll need to go on a diet for a month.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Pear Coffee Cake

It's been a busy 2009 so far. I've had little time for baking, and even less for blogging. Here's the first of what I hope will be several catch-up installments: the Pear Coffee Cake I made for Christmas breakfast. It admirably met my requirement for a delicious treat that would function equally well as both breakfast and dessert.

I adapted this from the recipe for "Buttermilk Peach Coffee Cake" I found in this delightful book:

The Cake Book, by Tish Boyle

The Hilo Public Library has closed for three months for roof repair and renovations, so any books borrowed the last week in December aren't due back until the end of March, which is cool, so I grabbed some cookbooks while I was stocking up. The Coffee Cake is the only thing I've made from this book so far, but I've been browsing (and drooling) a lot, and hubbie has a birthday coming up, so stay tuned.

You'll find the original coffee cake recipe on page 108. Here's how I made my pear version. As usual, I used some WW flour, yogurt instead of buttermilk, used a little brown sugar, added some cinnamon and cardamom (so good with pears), and so on. I used some rolled oats and spices in the topping, too, and pecans instead of almonds 'cause that's what I had lying around.

The original peach version (probably also delicious) calls for a drizzle of white sugar glaze, which I skipped because at that point I was tired of being in the kitchen and this looked like it was going to be sweet and fattening enough without it. Which it was.

Pear Coffee Cake

2 bartlett pears
3 tsp lemon juice (divided)
1 C all purpose flour
1 C whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
3/4 C unsalted butter (12 T; 1.5 sticks), soft
3/4 C sugar
1/4 C brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 C plain whole milk yogurt
1/4 C whole milk

Preheat the oven to 350 and butter and flour a 9" round baking pan or springform pan.

Peel, core, and dice the pears, and toss in a small bowl with 2 tsp of the lemon juice. Set aside.

Sift together the flours, baking soda and powder, salt, and spices. Set aside.
Mix the yogurt and milk with the remaining tsp of lemon juice (it will curdle; that's okay). Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugars until very light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each. Add the vanilla extract and blend in.

Beat in half the flour mixture at low speed, then the yogurt mixture, then the rest of the flour mixture.

Spoon half the batter into the baking pan and smooth the top. Top with the pears (scattered evenly over the batter) and half of the crumble topping (below). Cover with the rest of the batter and then the rest of the crumb topping.

Bake 50 minutes or until done. Cool in the pan on a wire rack. If using a springform pan, remove the sides after cake has cooled for 20 minutes.

Crumble Topping/Filling

1/2 C all purpose flour
1/2 C rolled oats
1/2 C brown sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
pinch nutmeg
2/3 cup pecans
4 T butter (soft)
1/4 C milk

Put all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until well blended and the nuts are chopped. This will be thick and sticky, not dry Use a fork to drop clumbs of it all over the top of the coffee cake before baking.


I followed the recipe's instructions to place 1/2 the batter in the pan, then add the fruit, sprinkle with half the crumble topping (that's what the odd-looking dark bits in the middle are, in the photo, above), then top with the rest of the batter and the rest of the crumble. Next time:

1) I'll use a little more pear (some of mine was mushy and had to be tossed, so I ended up with less than expected) and fold it into the batter rather than putting it all in the middle.

2) I'll make less crumble topping and only use it on top.

3) I'll use a metal baking pan. I used my large, glass, deep-dish pie pan for this, 'cause something else was in the metal pan I should have used (don't remember what, but the glass pan was option #2). This meant it baked longer, even at a slightly higher temp, and the bottom and top got darker than they probably should be by the time the middle was done.

This coffee cake was delicious, though. I ate way too much of it, without a single regret. I'll definitely consider making it again, when a year or so has passed and I've forgotten the damage it contributed to my end-of-year weigh-in.