Thursday, November 29, 2007

Holdiay Entertaining: Gougères

PHEW. Between the Daring Bakers Potato Bread, Thanksgiving and my girl's fourth birthday, I'm a bit wiped out... I mean, a gal can only cook so much in the span of two weeks! I need a personal chef.
But a dinner party on Saturday night has me back in the kitchen yet again. I'm tackling the appetizers first, because I can store them and just bring them out on Saturday night.

I've decided to serve kir royale as an apéritif, and nothing goes with champagne quite like a good gougère. And as a bonus, gougères are such an easy appetizer. You can make them in advance and freeze them, reheat them for the party and make everyone go "ooooh". I learned how to make these yummy snacks in France, official home of the gougère. They are a light appetizer but really satisfying due to the gruyère cheese.

To make these, you should have a pastry bag with a 1/2 inch tip. If you don't have that, you can drop them by spoonfulls, but they won't have the same look to them. Although once they puff up they tend to get all out of whack, so it probably doesn't really matter much! You should also have a food processor or stand mixer.

This recipe made about 75 gougères.

3/4 cup water
5 1/2 Tb. unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1 cup all purpose flour, sifted
5 eggs
3/4 cup grated Gruyère cheese

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Put Silpat mats on three baking sheets. (or use parchment)
Place the 3/4 cup water, butter, and salt in a small saucepan and heat to a boil.
Remove from the heat and dump the flour in quickly.
Using a wooden spoon, mix the batter quickly until it starts to form a ball and pulls away from the sides of the pan. You will probably see a thin film on the pan.
Let this cool a touch, then put it in a food processor.
After it has cooled off a little, add four eggs, one egg at a time. Pulse until each egg is incorporated before you add the next egg.
Add the grated cheese and pulse again until well combined.
Transfer the batter into a pastry bag (you will want one that is about 16 inches long), fitted with a 1/2 inch plain tip.
Pipe 1 inch mounds on the baking sheets.
Beat the remaining egg and brush each gougères with some of the egg wash. Flatten pointy tips with your finger.
Bake until the gougères are puffed up and golden, about 20 - 25 minutes. Check for doneness by opening one up and being sure it is no longer wet inside.
Let the gougères cool a bit, and then serve warm.

***Do ahead: You can make the gougères ahead of time and store them in the freezer in an airtight container. From freezer, reheat at 350 degrees for about 5 minutes or until warm.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Daring Bakers Challenge: Potato Bread

While perusing through many-a-food blog, I kept noticing this logo for the "Daring Bakers". Digging in some more, I found out what this secret blog society is: almost 400 food bloggers (mostly bakers) who challenge each other once a month with a wonderful recipe. Everyone makes the same thing, and then posts on the same day! I wanted in! They let me in! So now I am a Daring Baker! Oh my...

So the challenge for the month of November was potato bread. I am someone who rarely makes bread. Ok, I never made bread in my life before this. But I was a DBer now, and this was the given challenge.

It didn't seem too terribly hard, to be honest. Nothing like the brioche sticky buns I made a while back. So I went for it.

The dough for this recipe is considered to be sticky. Since I had no previous experience with bread, I had no problem with the dough. I'm lucky that I have a kitchenaid mixer with a dough hook, that helped get me started. And then I just used plenty of flour while kneading and it came together beautifully.

I made 12 dinner rolls (which my kids devoured in two days) and a focaccia. I think this dough would work great for pizza as well, although it's a bit more dense than a typical pizza dough.

There's nothing like making something you've never made before and having it work, work well, and taste great! If you've never made bread before, try it out. You'll be surprised how easy it is, and fun as well. For Christmas I've already asked for The Bread Baker's Apprentice and some French bread pans.

This challenge was given by Tanna of My Kitchen in Half Cups:

Tender Potato Bread(from Home Baking: The Artful Mix of Flour & Tradition Around the World by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid; who also wrote Hot Sour Salty Sweet)

Makes 1 large tender-crumbed pan loaf AND something more; one 10X15 inch crusty yet tender foccacia, 12 soft dinner rolls, or a small pan loaf

4 medium to large floury (baking) potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks. Tanna Note: For the beginner bread baker I suggest no more than 8 ounces of potato; for the more advanced no more than 16 ounces. The variety of potatoes you might want to use would include Idaho, Russet & Yukon gold, there are others. I USED 2 MEDIUM YUKON GOLD POTATOES

4 cups(950 ml) water, reserve cooking water

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons active dry yeast

6 ½ cups to 8 ½ cups (1 kg to 1350g) unbleached all-purpose flour (King Arthur's is good)

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened

1 cup (130g) whole wheat flour

Making the Dough (Directions will be for making by hand, although I used my Kitchenaid mixer):
Put the potatoes and 4 cups water in a sauce pan and bring to boil. Add 1 teaspoon salt and cook, half covered, until the potatoes are very tender.
Drain the potatoes, SAVE THE POTATO WATER, and mash the potatoes well. I ran mine through a potato ricer.

Measure out 3 cups(750ml) of the reserved potato water. Add extra water if needed to make 3 cups.

Place the water and mashed potatoes in the bowl you plan to mix the bread dough in.

Let cool to lukewarm (70-80°F/21 - 29°C) – stir well before testing the temperature – it should feel barely warm to your hand. You should be able to submerge you hand in the mix and not be uncomfortable.
Add yeast to 2 cups all-purpose flour and whisk.

Add yeast and flour to the cooled mashed potatoes & water and mix well.

Allow to rest/sit 5 minutes.
Note about Adding Yeast: If using Active Dry Yeast or Fresh yeast, mix & stir yeast into cooled water and mashed potatoes & water and let stand 5 minutes. Then add 2 cups of flour to the yeast mix and allow to rest several minutes. If using Instant Dry Yeast, add yeast to 2 cups all-purpose flour and whisk. Add yeast and flour to the cooled mashed potatoes & water and mix well. Allow to rest/sit 5 minutes.
Sprinkle in the remaining 1 tablespoon salt and the softened butter; mix well.

Add the 1 cup whole wheat flour, stir briefly.
Add 2 cups of the unbleached all-purpose flour and stir until all the flour has been incorporated.

At this point you have used 4 cups of the possible 8 ½ cups suggested by the recipe.

Turn the dough out onto a generously floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes, incorporating flour as needed to prevent sticking. The dough will be very sticky to begin with, but as it takes up more flour from the kneading surface, it will become easier to handle; use a dough scraper to keep your surface clean. The kneaded dough will still be very soft. Place the dough in a large clean bowl or your rising container of choice, cover with plastic wrap or lid, and let rise about 2 hours or until doubled in volume.

Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface and knead gently several minutes. It will be moist and a little sticky.

Forming the Bread:

Divide the dough into 2 unequal pieces in a proportion of one-third and two-thirds (one will be twice as large as the other). Place the smaller piece to one side and cover loosely.

To shape a large loaf: Butter a 9 x 5 x 2.5 inch loaf/bread pan. Flatten the larger piece of dough on the floured surface to an approximate 12 x 8 inch oval, then roll it up from a narrow end to form a loaf. Pinch the seam closed and gently place seam side down in the buttered pan. The dough should come about three-quarters of the way up the sides of the pan. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 35 to 45 minutes, until puffy and almost doubled in volume.

To make a small loaf with the remainder:Butter an 8x4X2 inch bread pan. Shape and proof the loaf the same way as the large loaf.

To make rolls: Butter a 13 x 9 inch sheet cake pan or a shallow cake pan. Cut the dough into 12 equal pieces. Shape each into a ball under the palm of your floured hand and place on the baking sheet, leaving 1/2 inch between the balls. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for about 35 minutes, until puffy and almost doubled.

To make focaccia: Flatten out the dough to a rectangle about 10 x 15 inches with your palms and fingertips. Tear off a piece of parchment paper or wax paper a little longer than the dough and dust it generously with flour. Transfer the focaccia to the paper. Brush the top of the dough generously with olive oil, sprinkle on a little coarse sea salt, as well as some rosemary leaves, if you wish and then finally dimple all over with your fingertips. Cover with plastic and let rise for 20 minutes.

Baking the bread(s):
Note about baking order: bake the flat-bread before you bake the loaf; bake the rolls at the same time as the loaf.

Note about Baking Temps: 450°F(230°C) is going to prove to be too hot for the either the large or small loaf of bread for the entire 40/50 minutes. Put the loaves in at 450°(230°C) for 10 minutes and then turn the oven down to 375°F (190 °C) for the remaining time.

Note about cooling times: Let all the breads cool on a rack for at least 30 minutes before slicing. Rolls can be served warm or at room temperature.

For loaves and rolls: Dust risen loaves and rolls with a little all-purpose flour or lightly brush the tops with a little melted butter or olive oil (the butter will give a golden/browned crust). Slash loaves crosswise two or three times with a razor blade or very sharp knife and immediately place on the stone, tiles or baking sheet in the oven. Place the rolls next to the loaf in the oven.

Bake rolls until golden, about 30 minutes. Bake the small loaf for about 40 minutes. Bake the large loaf for about 50 minutes.

Transfer the rolls to a rack when done to cool. When the loaf or loaves have baked for the specified time, remove from the pans and place back on the stone, tiles or baking sheet for another 5 to 10 minutes. The corners should be firm when pinched and the bread should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.

For foccaia:Place a baking stone or unglazed quarry tiles, if you have them, if not use a no edged baking/sheet (you want to be able to slide the shaped dough on the parchment paper onto the stone or baking sheet and an edge complicates things). Place the stone or cookie sheet on a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 450°F/230°C.

If making foccacia, just before baking, dimple the bread all over again with your fingertips. Leaving it on the paper, transfer to the hot baking stone, tiles or baking sheet. Bake until golden, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a rack (remove paper) and let cool at least 10 minutes before serving.

I put herbed feta cheese, roasted tomatoes, rosemary and olive oil on my focaccia. It was fabulous.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Sugar Cut Out Cookies for Thanksgiving

Well, I really didn't make these yummy cookies for Thanksgiving, they were for my daughter's fourth birthday party. I love these sugar cookies. They are made with a vanilla bean which gives them a fabulous flavor, and they are thin and crisp as well. People usually say "Wow, this actually tastes like something" when they bite into one of these cookies, I suppose they have grown used to the doughy or flavor-less sugar cookies that are so abundant now.

How did I decorate them? Royal icing and disposable pastry bags. Yes, it took a while, but it's a great creative outlet and they turned out ok if I do say so myself! They flew off the plate at the party, and I included some in the goody bags each guest took home (along with a gingerbread man and two chocolate macarons!)

The recipe for the cookies comes from the Williams-Sonoma Holiday cookbook, which I bought over 10 years ago so I don't even know if it's in print anymore. But it's a fail-safe cookie and I refuse to use another recipe. Try it out for the holidays!

Williams-Sonoma Holiday Cut Out Cookies:
1 cup (8 oz./ 250 g) unsalted butter at room temperature
3/4 cup (6 oz./ 185 g) sugar
3 egg yolks
1 piece vanilla bean, about 2 inches long
2 1/2 cups (12.5 oz/ 390 g) all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt

In a bowl, using an electric mixer set on medium speed, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes.

Beat in the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Cut the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrape the seeds into the butter mixture. Mix well.

In a sifter, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Sift the flour mixture directly onto the butter mixture. Reduce the mixer speed to low and beat until well mixed.

Divide the dough into 4 equal portions. Shape each portion into a ball and then flatten the balls into disks. Wrap the disks in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. (Can be prepared up to 3 days ahead). Let it soften slightly at room temperature before continuing.

Position a rack in the upper third of an oven an dpreheat to 350 degrees F (180 C). Butter two large baking sheets (I use silpats, they are great). On a lightly floured work suface, roll out a dough disk 1/4 inch thick. (I usually cover the dough with a piece of plastic wrap, so my rolling pin won't stick to the dough). Using cookie cutters, cut out desired shapes. Transfer the cutouts to the prepared baking sheets. Gather up and reroll the scraps to cut out more cookies. Repeat with remaining dough disks.

Bake until the cookies are golden on the edges, about 8 minutes. Transfer to racks and let cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to one week.

**Do-ahead tip: Make the dough and cut out the shapes ahead of time, freeze the shapes, then bake them as you need them. Always have fresh cookies!

Royal Icing: I used Ateco's meringue powder to make a great royal icing. I used gel coloring (Wilton makes a ton of colors) to color the icing, and my pastry bag with various tips to get the designs I wanted.
If you want, you could use simple confectioner's sugar and cream.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Pumpkin Pie with Toffee and Pecans

Two weeks ago I did something I've never done before: I entered a pumkin pie contest. I don't know what came over me, but for some reason I needed some unknown third party to taste and judge my baking. And I'm not even an avid pie-baker!

So I made this really nicely spiced pumpkin pie, following a recipe I found on Epicurious, and using Martha Stewart's dough recipe. One thing about pumpkin pie crust, you have to be sure it is COLD before prebaking it. If it isn't cold enough, it will shrink up to 1/2 its size! And use pie weights, they will help with that shrinkage as well.

The recipe is extremely easy, that's what I love about pumpkin pie. The biggest challenge is the crust. I made my crust in a pretty French quiche tin, and people raved about the look.

How did I do in the contest, you ask? Second place. Not bad, but not first! (My guess is they didn't like the spin on the classic pumpkin pie: toffee and pecans around the top). Ahh, a challenge for next year. I won two tickets to the aquarium that we already belong to, the irony of it all.

So, on to the pie:

Martha Stewart Flaky Pie Dough:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tb granulated sugar
1 1/4 tsp. salt
2 1/4 sticks cold unslated butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup plus 1 to 2 Tb. ice water

-Pulse flour, sugr and salt in a food processor to combine. Add butter and process until mixture resembles coarse meal, about 10 seconds. With machine running, add ice water in a slow, steady stream until dough just holds together (no longer than 30 seconds).

-Divide dough in half. Shape each half into a disk and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour (or up to 2 days). Dough can be frozen for up to one month, thaw overnight in the refrigerator.

-On a lightly floured surface, roll out one disk of dough to 1/8 inch thick. Cut into a 12 inch round. Fit dough onto the bottom and up sides of a pie dish. Roll and pinch the overhang.

-Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Prick bottom of crust all over with a fork. Freeze until firm, about 15 minutes. Line with parchment paper and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake until edges begin to turn golden, about 15 minutes. Remove weights and parchment. Return to oven and bake unti the center is golden brown, about 15 minutes more. Let cool completely on a wire rack.

For Pumpkin Pie Filling:
1 15 ounce can pure pumpkin
2/3 cup packed golden brown sugar
2/3 chp whipping cream
1/3 cup whole milk
2 large eggs
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. ground allspice
1/2 cup chopped and toasted pecans
1/3 cup English toffee bits (I used Heath bits)

Position rack in bottom third of oven and preheat to 375 degrees. Whisk first 12 ingredients in a large bowl. Pour into prepared crust. Bake until filling is set, about 55 minutes. Transfer to rack. Sprinkle nuts and toffee around the edge of the hot pie, forming a border. Cool completely. (Can be made 6 hours ahead, let stand at room temperature. I made mine the day before and it was very good, the crust got more tender overnight as well.)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Joseph Beth's Bronte Bistro

Today was a rainy Sunday in Cincinnati, my husband had to work all day so I was stuck with entertaining two very small children. My thought was to go play with Thomas the Train at Joseph-Beth Bookstore, followed by brunch at their café. I had never had brunch there, only lunch and dinner, and it's usually pretty good. Perfect plan, I thought...perfect plan!

So out we went, under the rain, on our adventure. After about an hour of Thomas antics (my limit) we headed for the bistro...there was a wait. Ask any parent, being told there is a "15 - 30 minute wait" at any restaurant when you are stuck with a 2 and 3 year old is like being told "and our waiting room is in the bowels of hell, right this way...". But it took 20 minutes and we perservered (after a million "do you want to go home?" threats made by yours truly)...
The hostess, by the way, was delightful and tried to help me entertain the wee-ones.
We got to our table and I could feel the eyes of my fellow brunchers upon us..."Oh GREAT, KIDS!" I know that's what they were thinking. Oh well...One must eat.
Our waitress arrived. You know that feeling when your waitress arrives and you are CERTAIN she hates your very existence and that of your offspring? That's the kind of waitress we got. Greeeaaat. I should have made the same threat to her as I did my kids: "Do you want to go home?" But that would have gotten spit in my coffee, so I refrained.

So I took a look at their brunch menu. This café is known for serving from the store's cookbooks, so you got to see the inspriation for various menu items. They had all sorts of things on the menu: omelets, scrambled eggs, creme brulée french toast, fritattas, you name it. It all looked good, but I settled on the scrambled eggs, which came with Paula Dean home fries (read: fat fat fat fries), bacon, toast and a fruit cup.

When "Debbie Downer" the waitress came back, I asked her for two chocolate milks for the kids, a cup of coffee for me, and a pumpkin muffin, pronto! I wasn't demanding, but I needed something to entertain the "petits monstres" until our meals were ready. I think she rolled her eyes and off she went to pour a couple chocolate milks.

She returned with a blueberry muffin. Although I had ordered pumpkin, I made zero fuss. First of all because she scared the hoo-ha out of me, and secondly because I just needed food to entertain these babies of mine. I think this is what is behind the obesity epidemic in America...moms shoving food at their children so they won't make a fuss in restaurants. Debbie took my order, and I ordered the scrambled eggs, a grilled cheese and silver dollar pancakes for the kids.

My cup of coffee began running low. I figured someone would be by to magically fill it up again...It never happened.

We got our meals. Immediately I was confused. My scrambled eggs were not scrambled. Are scrambled eggs supposed to be a mass of egg with cheddar cheese melted on top? Isn't that an omelet, or some version of an omelet? I saw no evidence of scrambling going on in this egg. But no way was I going to say anything to dear old Debbie, an egg is an egg. But to make matters worse, they had no taste. That was a downer. First it's Debbie Downer and now Scrambled Egg Downer. The fruit was rather tasteless, and the bacon wasn't great either. It wasn't fatty, which was good, but it didn't have much going on. Kind of like eating a greasy salt lick. I would suggest they invest in some Applewood bacon, that stuff is the pork product of the Gods. Love it.

I had been nursing my coffee, which was now 7/8 gone. My waitress looked so everyone. I tried to flag her a couple of times to get more coffee, but she flew right by me every time. I swear, she hated my existence. Some elderly woman next to me had a question about her bill and WOAH boy I had to divert my was like watching Medusa herself in the process of turning human flesh to stone. This gal was either having a bad day or a bad life, I wasn't sure which. So I didn't ask for more coffee, I just wanted out.

I ate 1/2 the eggs, one piece of enormously dry and cold toast, a few pieces of tasteless melon and bacon and some YUMMY home fries. Leave it to Paula Dean to put cream cheese in her breakfast potatoes, but that works. It was the best part of my meal. You can't really go wrong with home fries and cream cheese.

Near the end of the meal, I glanced over at my 2 year old son. He was covered in syrup. Uh-oh, I was going to need help from dear old Deb. When she came back to the table, I nicely asked her for a glass of water (shouldn't I have had a glass of water already?) so I could douse my son and she absolutely glared at me and just nodded yes. No words. No facial expression (maybe she had just had Botox injections??) I couldn't believe it as she walked away to satisfy my incredibly demanding needs.

Needless to say, Deb got much less than my usual 20% tip.

I go to Bronte Bistro often, since I go to Joseph-Beth Bookstore often. For lunch it is pretty good, they have great salads. But this brunch, with its solid scrambled eggs, dry and cold toast, non-refilled coffee, bland bacon and tasteless fruit, I have to give it a C-.

First Watch is right down the street from here, they have the best brunch in town. I should never have strayed.....

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

YUMMEEE Spice Cake with Blackberry Filling

This cake was truly a labor of love. All of my girlfriends get together during the year to celebrate each others' birthdays, and we rotate being hostess with the mostess. I was lucky enough to be the hostess for my very dear friend Rhonda. She's the kind of friend who really notices the efforts, the details, the deliciousness of my (or anyone's) cooking. It's always so fun to bake for someone who appreciates it. So I couldn't wait to get cracking.

She was married one year ago, and her wedding cake was a spice cake with blackberries. Lo and behold, I found it in July 2001 Bon Appetit. I think this is much more of a fall dessert than a summer dessert, but there it was, smack dab in the middle of the summer's issues of BA.

I made the cake lovingly, decorated it to the best of my abilities (must take a course in this) and presented it to my friends. Rhonda was beside herself with joy. She said "This is better than my wedding cake"...which I doubt, but it was a wonderful compliment. It was moist, had the perfect amount of spices, and the cream cheese frosting recipe is a keeper. Needless to say, we all got up from our birthday cake extravaganza groaning. But a good groan.

The cake itself is really easy. You just need a springform pan. Oh, and I cheated on the filling. Instead of buying 1/2 pint baskets of blackberries (at $4 a pop!) I used a really good quality blackberry jam. It worked just fine.

Spice Cake:
2 cups cake flour
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground allspice
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/2 cups packed golden brown sugar
3 large eggs, separated
1 cup sour cream

For filling:
3 1/2 pint baskets blackberries
1/4 cup sugar
(But I used 1 1/2 cups blackberry jam)

For frosting:
1 1/2 8 oz. packages cream cheese, room temp.
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temp.
5 cups powdered sugar
2 Tb sour cream
1 tsp vanilla extract

1 1/2 pint basket blackberries

Preaheat oven to 350 F. Butter and flour 9 inch diameter springform pan with 2 3/4 inch high sides. Sift first 7 ingredients into a small bowl. Using the electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until fluffy. Ad brown sugar and beat until well blended (about 3 minutes). Beat in egg yolks. Beat in flour mixture in 3 additions, alternately with the sour cream in 2 additions. Using clean and dry beaters, beat the egg whites in a medium bowl until stiff but not dry, fold inot the batter in 2 additions. Transfer the batter to a prepared pan.

Bake the cake until the top is golden and tester comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Cool cake 10 minutes, cut around pan sides and release. Cool cake completely on rack.

For Filling:
Mix berries and sugar in bowl and mash with a fork. Let stand 20 minutes - 1 hour
OR: like I said, a good blackberry jam works just as well.

Beat cream cheese and butter in a large bowl until fluffy. Beat in sugar, then sour cream and vanilla. Beat with paddle attachment to get rid of
any air and make smooth as batter.

Cut cake horizontally into 3 equal layers. Place bottom layer, cut side up, on platter. Spread 1 cup frosting over. Spread half of filling (about 3/4 cup) over frosting, leaving 1/4 inch plain border at edge. Top with second cake layer and 1 cup frosting, then remaining filling. Top with third cake layer, cut side down. Spread remaining frosting over top and sides of cake. Refrigerate until frosting sets, about 1 hour. (Can be made 1 day ahead, cover loosely, keep chilled until 1 hour before serving.) Garnish cake with 1/2 pint berries.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Cinnamon Macarons

The best thing about making homemade ice cream is that you have a bunch of egg whites left over and you can experiment with macarons. Macarons need a lot of experimentation and practice to get them right. I still find that no two batches are alike, but I'm still working on it! To date, my most successful ones have been chocolate which almost never fail. But these turned out pretty good if I do say so myself.

To make these, I made a basic macaron batter and mixed in two teaspoons of ground cinnamon. I had no clue if that would be enough for a good flavor, and it turns out I was on target. They taste really good...

Of course, my macarons were not perfect. The first batch had HUGE feet. Way to big. They ooked like little hats with enormous rims. The second batch turned out just right...smooth dome, frilly feet, perfect consistency inside.

I filled them with a swiss buttercream. I made a basic vanilla swiss buttercream and added a bit of pumpkin pie filling to it. The end result is a cinnamon/pumpkin extravaganza of a macaron! Perfect for the fall!

Basic macaron recipe:
1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
1 cup almond flour
2 tsp. cinnamon
3 egg whites, room temperature (I let my eggs sit out overnight)
1/4 cup granulated sugar

Pulse first three ingredients in a food processor, set aside.

Beat the egg whites in a stand mixer until foamy. Add granulated sugar and beat until you get stiff peaks.

With a rubber spatula, blend the powdered sugar mixture and the egg white mixture. Mix until a peak in the batter disappears within a few seconds. It should "flow like magma" so they say.

Pipe onto parchment (or silpat) in 1.5 inch rounds. Bake for 12 - 15 minutes (depending on the heat of your oven, my oven cooks hot so I do 12 minutes).

Let cool on silpat, and then peel cooled macarons off.

Spread buttercream on bottom of one macaron and top with another. Store in a air-tight container at room temperature for 3 - 5 days.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Restaurant Review: Seny Tapas Bar

Ok, I know a lot of you who are reading this are not from Cincinnati. But I also know that many of you have had the experience of being so excited about eating at a new restaurant, only to be disappointed in the end. Such was my experience at Seny, a new Spanish tapas bar/restaurant in Cincinnati.
Call me a tapas snob, if you will. But I love love LOVE real Spanish tapas. I lived in Madrid as a college student, and was introduced to some of the best tasting cuisine in the world. They can do a lot with a tapa, and they are really not complicated to make. But I never make them for myself for some reason. So when I saw that there was a new tapas restaurant coming to town I was thrilled. And when I read the web site for this tapas restaurant, I read that they guaranteed the real more chips 'n dip called "tapas" like you find in so many restaurants these days. Ay caramba, I was going to have some tapas!!

I had visions of Madrid, of the jamon serrano hanging from the ceiling, or of the manchego being cut from huge rounds. I even had visions of my favorite States-side tapas restaurant: Café Babareeba in Chicago. I couldn't wait to experience that joy in my hometown.

So, my husband and I got a sitter (at $8/hour you want to have a GOOD meal) and headed out to Seny. And it went downhill from there.

First, we were terribly early for our table, so we got a drink at the bar. What else but sangria? I couldn't wait for a good, authentic sangria. Ok, some problems here. The sangria was being tapped from a huge sangria pitcher. Well, when you tap sangria, you don't get the fruit. And sangria served without fruit is like Sonny without Cher, Gladys Knight without her Pips, etc. Something was terribly missing, there was no va va va voom. The sangria tasted like red wine and seltzer water. It was refreshing, but there was a kick missing, a fruitiness, a sweetness, something was just not there. I asked the very accomodating bartender for some fruit, and he gave me a plateful, which I immediately squeezed into my drink. Thank goodness for nice bartenders, they keep the customers happy.

Once we were seated, we took a look at the menu, which was fairly limited for a tapas place (again, I am partial to Café Babareeba or Café Iberico in Chicago, who have enormous menus). The menu was split in four groups: Cold tapas, warm tapas, traditional tapas, and main dishes. The cold and warm tapas were all fancy-schmancy small plates of food. They looked good, but nothing spoke to me like a traditional tapa. Looking at the list of traditional tapas, my mouth watered. I remembered reading on the Seny web site that they planned to serve REAL traditional food from Spain, no fooling around with the tried and true. And so we ordered. Our first round was Spanish Tortilla, Gambas al Aioli and a Spanish charcuterie plate.

The Spanish tortilla was served warm. WARM. OK PEOPLE, everyone knows that in Spain your Spanish tortilla is a cold tapa. It is served cold, always. The aioli they served it with was excellent, but the tortilla itself was without flavor, and it was WARM. I've never had a flavorless Spanish tortilla. I tried and tried but could not locate the flavor. Thank goodness for the aioli, which I schmeared all over my poor hot tortilla. When I asked the waiter "Why is this warm?", he said he didn't know, and ventured to guess it was a Cincinnati thing. Hmmmm....

On to the gambas (shrimp with garlic butter). They were excellent. The shrimp were perfectly well cooked and seasoned, and the garlic sauce was very flavorful. Points for gambas.

Charcuterie platter: this had chorizo, cured meat and jamon serrano on it. This was the best thing we ate during our dinner. It was also the only thing that wasn't prepared in the kitchen. Ay ay ay.

We were still hungry, so we got three more tapas: shrimp fritters with mint sauce, patatas bravas and ham and spinach croquetas.

Shrimp Fritters: this was on the fancy schmancy side of the menu, so I had nothing to compare it to in Spain or elsewhere. They were good, but nothing to get too excited about.

Patatas Bravas: (fried potatoes served with spicy aioli sauce) These were good, but I felt like I was eating breakfast home fries with aioli sauce. Patatas bravas are usually large wedges of potato, not little squares. The spicy aioli sauce was great though.

Croquetas: NOOOOOO! How can you destroy the staple of all Spanish Sunday dinners, the croqueta?? They made them with WAY too much beschemel sauce (I think it was beschemel) so that when you bit into one it just oozed white sauce. I didn't see any ham in my croquetas, and very little spinach. So I'm not quite sure what I was eating. Beschemel croquetas? They weren't very flavorful either, they needed something to accompany the sauce. How I yearned for a good chicken and ham croqueta at this point of my meal. Those are so yummy....

When asked if we wanted dessert, I jumped at it...obviously I do enjoy my desserts. The chocolate croquetas we asked for at first were sold out. So we asked for the "tapas desserts", which we understood would be a few different small versions of their desserts. I've had this at Babareeba and it's excellent (mini flan, mini rice pudding, etc.). We also asked for decafs.

The decafs came toute de suite. Too fast. I still had half a croqueta in my mouth and the waiter is giving me a decaf. No cream or sugar. I asked for both. I got the sugar immediately. I asked again for cream, I got a little pitcher of wasn't cream. I poured it in my was skim milk. Now, I realize this is a new restaurant and there are kinks and all...but cream? Come on, folks. I took a sip of the coffee....watery, flavorless, blech. Thank God they didn't charge us for it.

The desserts arrived. I kid you not when I describe them this way: Little Debbie meets Dunkin Donuts. DIOS MIO! I couldn't believe what I was eating and seeing. I should ask for a job making desserts there, because Deb and Dunkin' are just not getting the job done. There were four little cakes on a long, pretty dish. Two tasted EXACTLY like the Little Debbie strawberry snack cake. One was a chocolate "pastry" (aka Munchkin donut) covered in glaze (aka Munchkin donut glaze). It tasted like a Munchkin, to the "t'. I HATE a chocolate dessert that doesn't taste like chocolate. There was one cake on this plate that was worth the calories, it was an almond based cake with a hard sugar glaze. It was good. The me gusta, nada.

So, will I go back to Seny? Not sure...I want to believe they will work things out, locate the spice rack, give the food some flavor, refrigerate the tortillas, add fruit to the sangria glasses and hire a new pastry chef. If those things happen, and my husband and I find ourselves with $65 to spend on dinner (this was our bill), maybe I'll go back. Until then, I'm off to Honey!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

"How'd You Do That?" Apple Pie

Ok, this is really Martha Stewart's Spiced Apple Pie from the November issue of her magazine. But if you make the fluted round cutouts instead of a traditional crust, everyone who sees it will shout "How'd you DO THAT?" It's like clockwork, every time. Anyway, to get this result is really not that hard...and it turns out so gorgeous.

(Note to a Martha Stewart Living subscription. I keep buying them at the grocery store check out, a huge rip off. Although worth every penny.)

So about my pie: I brought this for dessert at a friend's house, and paired it with the salted butter caramel ice cream (previous recipe). It was a great pairing. I baked the pie the day before, and we warmed it up during dinner at 350 for 15 minutes, which was perfect. It was a plate-licker.

The following day my husband and I reheated the few leftovers we had in the microwave. I don't suggest that technique, it destroys the flakiness of the crust. One must not destroy a Martha pie.

Keep in mind, this pie requires a lot of time. Not energy, but time. You spend a lot of time refrigerating things for one hour, and then an eternity in the oven. Don't do what I did and start when you are supposed to be meeting someone at the park with your children will be held hostage at home by your pie. Be sure you have some free time.

So, here's the recipe...enjoy it!

Pâte Brisée:
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, chilled
1 1/2 teaspoons course salt
1 Tb. granulated sugar
2 1/4 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
7 - 10 Tb ice water (I used 8)

Pulse flour, salt and sugar in a food processor. Add butter nd pulse until you get course crumbs, about 10 seconds.

With food processor running, add ice water slowly in a steady stream, until dough holds together and is neither wet or sticky. About 30 seconds.

Divide dough into two portions, and shape each into a disk. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight. It can be frozen for up to one month, just thaw it in the refrigerator overnight before using.

To make the fluted piecrust:

You will need a fluted round cutter (1 3/4 inch or 2 1/2 inch)

Roll out one portion of the dough to 1/8 inch thick and fit it into the pie plate. Roll out the remaining dough to 1/8 inch thick and use a 1 3/4 inch fluted round cutter to cut out about 70 rounds, re-rolling the scraps. (I used a 2 1/2 inch cutter and made 40 rounds).

Place the filling in the pie plate, mounding it in the center. Lightly brush the edge of the crust with an egg wash of 1 Tb. heavy cream and 1 egg yolk.

Arrange the rounds around the perimeter (all the way to the edge) of the piecrust and on top of the filling, overlapping them slightly. Lightly brush the top of each round with egg wash as you work so they will adhere to one another.

Repeat the process, overlapping rounds in a spiral all the way to the center, until the pie is covered. Lightly brush the entire surface with egg was and sprinkly with fine sanding sugar. Refrigerate for one hour before baking.

Spiced Apple Pie:

Makes one 9 inch double-crust pie

Pâte Brisée (above recipe)
4 pounds Granny Smith apples
1 Tb finely grated lemon zest
2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 tsp. coarse salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
3 Tb. cold unsalted butter cut into small pieces

Egg wash:
1 large egg yolk
1 Tb. heavy cream

Sanding sugar

On a lightly floured work surface, roll 1 disk of dough to 1/8 inch thick. Fit into a 9 inch deep dish pie plate. Trim edges flush with rim, refrigerate for one hour.

Roll remaining disk of dough to 1/8 inch thick. Cut out 70 rounds with a 1 3/4 inch fluted round cutter. Place rounds on a parchment-lined baking sheet and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Peel and core apples. Thinly slice half of them, cut remaining apples into 1 inch pieces.

Toss together the apples, lemon zest and juice, sugars, flour, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg in a large bowl. Place filling in the piecrust, mounding in the center. Dot with butter. To make the egg wash, whish the egg yolk and cream in a small bowl. Lightly brush the edge of the piecrust with the egg wash. Arrange the dough rounds over the filling, working in a spiral from the outside in to the center, overlapping as you go. Use the egg was to help them stick together. Once the filling has been covered, brush the entire top of pie with egg wash and sprinkle the top with sanding sugar. Refrigerate pie for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F., with racks in the middle and lower positions. Place a foil-lined baking sheet on the lower rack to catch any juices. Place the pie on the middle rack and bake until the crust begins to turn golden brown, about 25 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 375 and bake until the crust is golden brown and juices are bubbling, about 1 hour 10 minutes (I did 45 minutes and it was done, my oven runs hotter I think). Tent with foil if the crust browns too quickly. Let cool completely on a wire rack.