Saturday, December 27, 2008

Plain and Simple

Some recipes don't grab you. This was one of those at first. When a friend sent it to me, I never thought I'd make it, because I've never made bread before. I'd always assumed that it was a complex, delicate, impossible process. Then I came home for the holidays and was desperate for something that wasn't meat or cookies. White bread it is, then. (We don't want to be too healthy--it's still the holidays.)

After I made it, I realized how wrong I was. Everyone needs a good basic bread recipe, and this one is wonderful. It dense and moist, and it stands up well to butter and jam. The crust is golden and it's not too crumbly. It's plain and simple and easy. And above all, it's delicious. If you don't consider yourself a baker, or if you have had trouble with bread in the past, this is the recipe for you.

Maybe it wasn't the most complicated or flashy recipe I made over Christmas, (those are to come,) but it's one that I think everyone should have in their back pocket.

I hope you all had wonderful, relaxing holidays!

White Bread

1 cup milk
2 tbsp sugar
2 tsp salt
2 tbsp butter
1 cup water
2 packets dry yeast
6 cups flour

Scald milk. Add sugar, salt, butter, and water. Cool.

Soften yeast in 1/2 cup lukewarm water; add to milk mixture.

Put flour in large bowl, and add milk mixture. Mix and then turn dough out on a floured table or counter and knead. (You may add flour as needed until the dough no longer sticks to your hands.)

Grease bowl and put dough in bowl to rise for half an hour (it should be in a warm place). Punch down gently and let rise for another half an hour.

Prepare two loaf pans by greasing them and coating them lightly with flour.

Knead dough, cut into two halves, roll and shape into loaves. Put into loaf pans and let rise for another half an hour.

Bake at 400 degrees for 40 minutes. (This varies a lot from stove to stove, so check after 20 or 30 minutes.) Its usually done with the crust is a medium golden brown. Cool on racks. If you brush a little cold water on the crust when you remove them from the oven, the crust will be crispier.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Soft and Salty and Delicious

I just love caramel. Salted caramel, in particular. So when I saw this recipe, which is from The Art and Soul of Baking, which I covet, I knew I had to make it.

Peanut butter cookies are wonderful in general, but when you add homemade peanut caramel to the middle of them...well, I don't know if it gets better than that. The cookies are dense and peanut butter-y, like they should be, and the caramel is soft and salty and delicious.

I also made the cookies much larger than they're supposed to be. For a recipe that's supposed to make 50 cookies, I got 25. Whoops. More room for caramel, is what I say. And you want as much caramel as you can get. I would eat this caramel with a spoon. Actually, I did eat this caramel with a spoon, because the recipe makes a ton of extra. Ice cream? Apple dip? There are a million possibilities. Another note about the caramel is that it doesn't totally set. It's not runny, but if you, say, poked a finger into it, your finger would come away sticky. Just something to think about.

To to sum up: peanuts+salt+caramel=make this now.

Peanut Butter Cookies with Salted Peanut Caramel
From David Lebovitz via The Art and Soul of Baking

Makes 50 small or 25 medium-sized cookies

8 tablespoons (115g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup (120g) packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup (100g) granulated sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup (200g) creamy salted peanut butter (regular, not natural, is best)
1 3/4 cups (250g) flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup (250ml) heavy cream
1/2 cup (125ml) water
1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
1 tablespoon light corn syrup or glucose
1/8 teaspoon coarse salt
3/4 cup (100g) finely chopped roasted salted peanuts

Preheat the oven to 350F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.

With an electric mixer, or by hand, make the cookie dough by beating the butter, brown and granulated sugar until smooth. Beat in the egg and vanilla until well blended. If using an electric mixer, scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Beat in the peanut butter.

In a separate bowl, whisk or sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the peanut butter mixture and stir until there are no patches of flour.

Scoop up tablespoon-sized portions of the dough and roll each piece between your hands so they're as smooth as possible so they don't crack at the edges when performing the next step.

Space them 1 1/2-inches (2 cm) apart on the baking sheets, then use the rounded end of a wooden spoon, or your thumb, to make a depression in each one. Don't worry much if the sides crack; push them back together.

Bake the cookies for 13-16 minutes, rotating the baking sheets midway during cooking, until they are light-golden brown and the edges barely start to darken. Remove from oven, and while they're warm, press in to reinforce each depression with the end of the wooden spoon. Let cool completely.

Make the salted peanut caramel by warming the cream in a saucepan or microwave, and setting it aside. (Don't skip this step! If you add cold cream to the caramel, the sugar will crystallize too quickly. If this happens, immediately stir the mixture vigorously over low heat until the sugar melts again.)

Cook the water, 1 cup sugar, corn syrup, and salt to a caramel, gently swirling the pan only if necessary (to ensure it melt and cooks evenly) until it turns a nice golden brown. (This always takes longer than you think it will, but once it starts happening, it goes quickly. My very imprecise measure of timing is this: I wait until I start to get nervous that it's about to burn, let it cook for another twenty seconds, and then take it off. In terms of looks, if you add the cream to the caramel and it still looks translucent and dark, then it's burnt. It should be golden and cloudy.)

Remove from heat and immediately whisk in the hot cream in a slow, steady stream.

Cool until warm and pourable, then add the chopped peanuts. Spoon some of the caramel into each cookie, letting it set for about an hour, if you want to drizzle them with chocolate.

Storage: Cookies will keep in an airtight container, at room temperature, for 3 to 4 days. The unbaked dough can be rolled into rounds and stored in a heavy-duty freezer bag in the refrigerator or freezer, until ready to bake.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A Little Goopy

Thanksgiving was a few weeks ago now, but I still haven't shared with you the dessert. I wanted something a little different than regular apple pie. It's a favorite of mine, but I was looking for a twist. The Thanksgiving issue of Gourmet provided just the answer: Mexican brown sugar apple pie.

I've made pies before--I've even made good pies before--but I've never made a lattice crust. My attempt was less than perfect, but that never stopped my hungry family. They ate every piece.

And even though the whole thing was gone, I have to tell you something. It was only okay. The crust (This is the recipe I should have gone with.) The filling? Pretty good, but I think next time I'd add some more cinnamon. It was also a little goopy--the apples were swimming in the syrup. I'd reduce it for longer next time, or only make half the recipe.

But maybe mine was bad luck, because the recipe seems like it should be great. So make it, have at it, and tell me if yours turns out any better.

Mexican Brown Sugar Pie

1/2 pound piloncillo (unrefined brown sugar; also called panela)*
3/4 cup water
4 (1-inch-wide) strips orange zest
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
2 1/2 pound medium apples
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Pastry dough (for a double-crust pie) (Use recipe above)
1 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon sugar

Put a large heavy baking sheet in middle of oven and preheat oven to 425°F.

Bring piloncillo, water, zest, spices, and 1/8 teaspoon salt to a boil in a small heavy saucepan, covered, stirring occasionally until piloncillo has dissolved. Remove lid and boil over medium-low heat until syrup is thickened and reduced to about 3/4 cup, 6 to 10 minutes. Discard zest and cool syrup slightly.

Meanwhile, peel and core apples, then cut into 1/2-inch-wide wedges.

Toss apples with flour, then with syrup.

Roll out 1 piece of dough (keeping remaining piece chilled) on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin into a 13-inch round, then fit into a 9-inch pie plate.

Trim edge, leaving a 1/2-inch overhang, and chill shell.

Roll out remaining piece of dough on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin into a 16-by 11-inch rectangle. Cut dough crosswise into 11 (1 1/4-inch-wide) strips.

Stir apple mixture, then spoon evenly into pie shell. Weave a tight lattice pattern over pie with pastry strips.

Trim all strips flush with edge of pie plate. Fold bottom crust up over edge of lattice and crimp. Brush lattice (but not edge) with milk and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake pie on hot baking sheet 20 minutes.

Reduce oven temperature to 375°F and bake until crust is golden and filling is bubbling, 50 to 60 minutes more. Cool pie to warm or room temperature, about 1 1/2 hours.

*If you can’t get piloncillo, substitute 1 cup packed dark brown sugar and 2 tablespoons unsulfured molasses (not blackstrap). Syrup will take longer to reduce.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Unusual Pictures

I love Thanksgiving. Mostly because I love carbs in all forms. Give me bread, pasta, cake--anything, and I'm happy. But Thanksgiving night, after the stuffing and the pie and the potatoes and the gravy, even I need to take a break. That's why we had a non-traditional Thanksgiving dinner. (After the very traditional Thanksgiving lunch, of course.)

Here's the problem: I don't really have any pictures. Well, that's not true. I have a blurry--but pretty--picture of the salad, and, um, representational pictures of the main course. So you'll have to use your imagination a little. But, to make up for that, I'm going to give you two non-baking recipes. How does that sound?

First, there's a salad. To be perfectly honest, I'm not a huge fan of lettuce-based salads. For me, they're just a vehicle for salad dressing. So when I got to pick the salad, I chose one made up of things I actually like: grapefruit and avocado. At first I was skeptical of those two things with a mustard dressing, but let me tell you, it's wonderful. It gives it a nice fall edge while still being light, perfect for after eating an entire turkey. And, as a bonus, the red grapefruit and green avocado are beautiful together, as you can sort of see in my blurry, blurry picture.

And in terms of light things, I personally don't think you can ever go wrong with salmon. Especially salmon with a mustard and brown sugar glaze. If you don't like mustard, this probably isn't the meal for you. Luckily, I like it so hot that it stings my nose. The heat of the mustard in this recipe is tempered by the sweetness of the sugar, and they're both perfectly complemented by the salmon. Sadly, there are no pictures at all of this dish, because we ate it. And so I bring you pictures of the ingredients. Sort of.

*This fish not suitable for consumption

Grapefruit and Avocado Salad
Adapted from Ina Garten

1 tablespoon whole grain mustard
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup good olive oil
4 ripe Hass avocados
2 large red grapefruits

Place the mustard, lemon juice, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Slowly whisk in the olive oil until the vinaigrette is emulsified.

Before serving, cut the avocados in 1/2, remove the seeds, and carefully peel off the skin. Cut each half into 4 thick slices. Toss the avocado slices in the vinaigrette to prevent them from turning brown. Use a large, sharp knife to slice the peel off the grapefruits (be sure to remove all the white pith), then cut between the membranes to release the grapefruit segments.

Arrange the avocado slices around the edge of a large platter. Arrange the grapefruit segments in the center. Spoon the vinaigrette on top, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and serve.

You'll probably notice in the picture that I presented mine differently than Ina; I cut the avocado into chunks and mixed it gently in a bowl with the grapefruit and dressing. The grapefruit does break down after repeated mixing, but it still tastes just as good!

Salmon with Mustard and Brown Sugar Glaze
Adapted from Bon Appetit

3/4 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup butter, cut into small pieces
1 teaspoon Herbs de Provence
1 2-pound center-cut skinless salmon fillet

1/3 cup dijon mustard
1/4 cup (packed) golden brown sugar

Preheat oven to 350°F. Boil wine, butter, and Herbs de Provence in small saucepan 3 minutes. Sprinkle salmon on both sides with salt and pepper. Place fish on heavy rimmed baking sheet. Pour wine mixture over. Bake until fish is opaque in center, about 14 minutes. Remove from oven.

Preheat broiler. Mix mustard and sugar in small bowl to blend; spread over salmon to cover. Broil salmon until topping is brown and bubbling, about 3 minutes. Transfer salmon to platter and serve.