March 28, 2008

Tasty Treats in Reasonable Sizes

The Barefoot Contessa has some outstanding recipes, but many of them are really designed for very large crowds. Most of the time when I'm cooking a "crowd" tops out around six. So a dessert recipe designed for a half sheet is a little excessive. Luckily a more reasonable 9x13 holds exactly half the amount - making adapting such a recipe much easier (minus the uneven egg count).

I've been eyeing this recipe for a while, but the prodigious amounts of butter have kept me at bay. However, an excess of maple syrup and butter caused me to consider a halved adaptation. Especially since I had some willing guinea pigs to test them out. Our professor had invited us to his house for dinner instead of holding class on campus - and by the time I got home there was only one left (the one that hadn't fit in the container I took with me). After some requests for the recipe I promised to post it here in the near future (which only meant a few weeks).

Fans of pecans, but not some of the other ingredients take heart. My mother, not a fan of honey (one of the original sweeteners) or maple syrup thought that I had probably ruined the bars by their inclusion. I took a batch home for Easter anyway and she didn't seem to mind. In fact both she and my father seemed only too happy that I was leaving the rest of the bars behind when I left.

Pecan Pie Bars

2.5 sticks unsalted butter
3/8 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

2 sticks unsalted butter
1/2 cup dark maple syrup (Grade B)
1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 pounds pecans, coarsely chopped

2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted*

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Start with the crust. Cream the butter and sugar together, until light. A standmixer can do this in about 3 minutes. A handmixer will probably take closer to 5. Mix in the eggs, salt, and the vanilla. Sift the flour and baking powder together. Mix the dry ingredients into the batter with the mixer on low speed until just combined. Press the dough evenly into an ungreased 9 by 13 pan, making an edge (about 1 1/2 inches high) around the outside. The dough is very sticky. Bake for 15 minutes, checking occasionally to see if the crust is slumping off the sides. If it slumps too much. Take the crust out of oven and, with a spoon, patch the sides with thicker parts of the bottom. You want a set, but unbrowned crust.

For the topping, combine the butter, maple syrup, salt, and brown sugar in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Cook over low heat until the butter is melted, using a rubber spatula to stir. Raise the heat and boil for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat. Stir in the heavy cream, vanilla, and pecans. Pour into the crust. If you get the syrup right against the pan it will cook on and be hard to clean. Place in the oven and bake for about 30 minutes. Start checking after 25 minute. If the pecans are getting too dark remove from the oven. When done remove from the oven and allow to cool. Refrigerate until cold

To finish, remove from the refrigerator and using a spoon, scoop up some melted chocolate and begin drizzling over the top of the bars. After using up all of the chocolate return to the refrigerator to set the chocolate. This is easier to cut if very cold so remove from the refrigerator again, cut immediately, and serve.

* A few notes about chocolate:

  • I prefer to use a makeshift double boiler to melt chocolate. Place a small metal bowl over a small sauce pan of simmering water. The bowl should sit snuggly in the pan without falling in far enough to touch the water. Add your chocolate and walk away until it has started to melt and then stir gently.
  • If some liquid gets into your chocolate and it starts to seize add more liquid - milk, cream, water, coffee, whatever - it's counter intuitive, but basically you'll end up with a ganache that might not work for the recipe at hand but will be great with some cake or ice cream.
  • If you're going to melt chocolate please don't use chocolate chips - they have added stabilizers that interfere with a smooth melt. Use a good chocolate bar or something in bulk from the likes of Scharffen Berger, Callebaut (which I can get at my local co-op), or Ghirardelli (which is available in every grocery store I've ever been to).

March 20, 2008

Kumquat Yogurt Cake

As planned here is the recipe that inspired the marmalade making frenzy. It's an adaptation of Clotilde's yogurt cake. The nice thing about this recipe is that it's very easy to make and even if you don't want to try making your own kumquat marmalade you can use store bought (orange, lemon, lime - whatever flavor/brand you like the most).

I wasn't sure exactly how this would turn out when I started, but I made two - one to take to work to share with coworkers and the other to share with my graduate class. Between both cakes I only had one piece left, which was important since I hadn't photographed it in advance.

For those of you that are sick of marmalade posts, this is the last one planned. No promises that it won't make a return appearance in the future though.

Marmalade Yogurt Cake
3 eggs
1 1/4 cups Greek yogurt (I used Fage 2%)
1 cup sugar
2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract
1 tbs dark rum

3/4 marmalade

Preheat the oven to 350 F and prepare a 10-inch round cake pan (butter and line with buttered parchment).

In a large mixing bowl whisk the eggs to break up the yolks. Add the yogurt and sugar and blend together. Stir in the extracts and rum.

Combine the flour, baking powder, and baking soda in another large bowl. Sift half of the dry mixture over the the wet ingredients. Stir gently to combine. When nearly all the dry ingredients are incorporated sift the remaining flour mixture and stir until just combined.

Put the marmalade in the bottom of the pan and spread out almost to the sides of the pan (an offset spatula works great for this). Gently pour and scrape the cake batter over the marmalade.

Move the pan to the oven and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until done. Remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack. Let rest for 10 minutes and then invert onto a serving platter/cake stand. Tap on the bottom of the pan to help loosen the marmalade coated bottom. Remove the pan and peel off the parchment (carefully, so that you don't remove the marmalade). If some marmalade does come off with the parchment, just scrape it back onto the cake. Allow the cake to cool completely before serving.

Serving Suggestion:
Combine 1/2 cup of Greek yogurt with 2 tbs of marmalade and stir well. Serve a dollop of this mixture on each slice.

March 16, 2008

Spring Greens

Today I'm bringing you a quick interruption from my marmalade postings to write about a recipe for St. Patrick's Day. This dish is perfect for green-themed dinners. I came up with this recipe to use up some leftover baby arugula. The soup retains some of the nice peppery bite of the arugula, but is mellowed by the potato. I didn't think that the soup needed any cream for richness, but a few tablespoons would be enough to crank the creaminess up if anyone thinks they need it.

I started out with a quart of chicken stock, but ended up using another 1.5 cups of stock to thin it out. I suggest starting out with a quart as well and adjusting it with more stock to reach the desired consistency. This recipe is really easy if you have two pieces of equipment - a blender and a fine mesh sieve. A blender is still the only thing I know for really getting soup smooth and a fine mesh sieve helps filter out the small bits that the blender can't pulverize.

Potato Arugula Soup
4 serves
1 large russet potato
4 green onions
2 small garlic cloves, peeled
3.5 ounces baby arugula
1-2 quarts chicken stock
salt and pepper

Put 1 quart of stock in a pot and place over medium heat. Slice the potatoes thinly and place in the simmering stock. Add a large pinch of salt. Slice the onions and add both the onions and the garlic to the stock. Simmer until the potatoes are falling apart. Add the arugula and stir until it's wilted. Move the soup to a blender in batches and puree until it's smooth.

Pour the soup into a fine sieve and strain out any remaining chunks. Put back in the pot over low and add enough stock to thin it out. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve.

March 4, 2008

Luxury Breakfast - French Toast

As promised, today's post is going to cover just one of several uses I've found for my kumquat marmalade. About a year ago I started messing around with french toast to figure out my favorite version. After many different variations I think that I've perfected this recipe. However, it should definitely be relegated to "occasional treat" status because it is very rich (but not too sweet).

I found that I prefer a crusty bread with some flavor of its own. That means I usually use a light sourdough or a really good baguette. I vary the amount of sugar based on the bread I'm using - I wrote the recipe below for baguette - when I'm using sourdough I increase the sugar to about 2 tbs. Honestly, I usually don't eat anything on my french toast, not even butter, but I decided to try some kumquat sauce.

I did like the kumquat sauce, but I think I'll continue eating my french toast plain. I also had some left over pineapple from the night before. All in all it was a great way to start the day.

Kumquat Sauce
2 tbs kumquat marmalade
1 tbs water

Stir together and microwave for 30 seconds. Stir again and drizzle over the french toast.

French Toast
4 slices of sourdough boule or 7 slices of baguette, slightly stale
1 large egg
3 tbs cream
2 tbs milk
1 rounded tbs sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 drops almond extract
pinch salt

Break the egg into a bowl. Add the milk, cream, sugar, extracts, and salt. Whisk everything together. Pour into a wide dish. Place any many pieces of bread as you can lay down flat. Let soak for about a minute and then flip over. Let soak for about 5 minutes. Flip over again and then prepare the pan.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium. When the skillet is hot add 1 tbs of butter (real please) and melt until it starts to bubble. Turn the bread over right before adding each piece to the skillet. Be careful not to overcrowd the pan. Cover the skillet with a lid and cook for about 3 minutes before checking the bottoms to see if they're browned and a little crispy. Flip over and cover again. Cook for about 2 minutes.

Plate the french toast and top with whatever floats your boat.