Sunday, January 4, 2015

Bûche de Noël (Yule log cake)

One of my favorite holiday desserts to make is a bûche de Noël. It's a sponge cake that you roll up with a filling and usually decorate to look like a log, complete with merainge mushrooms. The recipe I usually follow is from the December 1991 Bon Appétit. Unfortunately it's not archived on their web site. For our Christmas dinner this year, I decided to try a recipe in an article in the NY Times reviewing new cook books for gift giving. One of the books reviewed was Dorie Greenspan's “Baking Chez Moi” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $40) for a gingerbread bûche de Noël. I was a little nervous about the frosting which requires that you bring sugar, water and cream of tartar up to a certain temperature and then beat into egg whites until fluffy and glossy.

Out of the oven successfully.

Rolled, could have rolled tighter. I used a technique from the 1995 recipe and made a soaking syrup of 2 tablespoons each of water, sugar and a liquor. In this case, Domaine de Canton, to enhance the ginger flavor.

Making sugar solution for frosting.

I decided to do little peaks with the frosting so it looked like pine trees covered in snow.
Final flourishes.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Tinkering with a recipe

We host a Christmas ship party every year when the Argosy Cruise line sends a lead ship with music and private boat owners sail along side, their boats decorated with lights.
One day I'll get a good shot.
Some of our guests are vegetarians, so I wanted an alternate to the ham we usually serve. I was thinking mac and cheese since I had a nice loaf of Tillamook cheddar cheese. I found a recipe with butternut squash on the NYTimes cooking site. I liked the idea of adding some vegetables to this usually rich, and sometimes one note, dish.

Here are the changes I made:
  • There were no aromatics. Why? I sauteed some shallot, leek and garlic. I also added some chopped sage and thyme, about a tablespoon in total. I added about a tablespoon of Dijon mustard to sharpen the flavor.
  • I decided to cut up the squash in a medium dice and roast it first. In the recipe, you roast it and then mash it. I wanted some textural interest. I should have roasted the squash in a bigger pan as I wanted to get some caramelization on it, but it steamed instead.
  • Somewhere I saw a recipe where you top the casserole with crushed Goldfish crackers. I thought, why not guild the lily? Plus, it was fun crushing the little critters up!
It came out quite well and was consumed by the end of the night. Play with it and see what you can come up with!

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Cookies - part two

Making Christmas cookies as gifts is a tradition in my family. My mom would sit us down around the table with bowls of different colored frosting and let us have at it. The more frosting, cinnamon drops and sprinkles; the better! And, of course, if one broke while you were frosting it, you got to eat it! It's a wonder that any got packed into tins.

I like to bake cookies for the people we have befriended at the farmer's market, friends, co-workers and my tennis coach, Evan.

Rather than decorated cookies, I like to focus on different flavor profiles - lemony, spicy, chocolate, peppermint, and nuts. I undertook an ambitious plan of five different varieties this year:
  • Chocolate Candy Cane Buttons - Combining chocolate and peppermint - classic! I added a half teaspoon of peppermint flavor to the icing.
  • Lemony Butter Cookies - Lemon and butter. How could you go wrong? I added the lemon zest to the icing and sprinkled sugar sparkles on the cookies. I would also use my finger to make an impression, not a fork. This would make a reservoir for the icing.
  • Dorothy Smith's Molasses Cookies - OK, her name was Dorothy and they are a molasses spice cookie. An old fashioned treat.
  • Pecan Bars - Caramelized nuts with a touch of orange zest on a shortbread crust. Watch it closely so they don't burn.
  • Classic Shortbread Cookies - Butter, sugar, flour and salt. That's it. A little tricky, need to keep the dough workable with out the butter softening too much.
One of the reasons I chose the first three recipes was I could make the dough ahead and refrigerate until baking day. The last two are favorites for a long time.
Ready to chill.
Tools I like from a restaurant store - sheet pans, grid cooling racks and pre-cut parchment paper.

The melon baller is handy for scooping consistent sized portions. No longer a uni-tasker.
Molasses cookies ready to bake.
Molasses cookies done.
Chocolate buttons baked.
Chocolate peppermint buttons done.
Lemon cookies ready to bake.
Lemony butter cookies done.
Making the base for the pecan squares.
Pecan squares done. (Note, I use paper clips to keep the parchment paper sling from curling.)
David's grandmother's cookie cutter.
Shortbread done.
A sample box.
I hope you try one or a number of these recipes! Happy Holidays.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Cookies - part one

The NYTimes had an article on Thanksgiving recipes that represented each state. The one from Iowa was for Thanksgiving cookies that were from a community cookbook, “Treasured Recipes Old and New 1975” by the Schuyler-Brown Homemakers Extension in Iowa Falls. I focused on it because I had recently bought some Medjool dates. Unfortunately, I didn't have a pound because we'd had some with cheese and nuts for dessert. I added some dried apricots I had. Still not a pound. So I added some dried cherries I had. The point here is that this recipe is pretty forgiving and an easy way to use up any dried fruit you have accumulating in your pantry.

I didn't quite get the yield they mentioned and I wasn't quite happy with the appearance. I think I would roll them and slightly flatten the next time so they are more consistent in size and shape.

But, we did a drive-by drop off with a friend and she liked the cookies so much she did her first selfie because she thought they were so good!

Next up, Christmas cookies!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Friday, November 28, 2014

Persimmon Pudding - Keeper Recipe!

The NY Times recently published an article on recipes that evoke each of the states. Indiana's recipe was persimmon pudding, and in a happy coincidence, my neighbor had given us some persimmons from his tree.

You puree the persimmons and then mix the wet ingredients together. Add in the dry ingredients and bake (be sure freshly grate your nutmeg). This recipe is a keeper! Really moist, perhaps a little dense. But I would definitely make it again! I think not using the souffle dish would make it better.

The Misunderstood Medlar

I was recently introduced to an uncommon fruit, the medlar, by a co-worker who had joined the Seattle Fruit Tree Society. One of the members gave her a few medlars and I was lucky enough to get one to taste. The medlar must be bletted (or seriously rippened) before eaten. The soften fruit tastes like a cross between apple butter and lemon. In the MIddle Ages, the fruits were packed in straw in barns, and allowed to ripen making them one of the few fruits available during the winter.

There are numerous literary references to this fruit, including Chaucer, Shakespeare and others. In the 16th and 17th centuries, medlars were bawdily called "open-arses" because of the shape of the fruits, inspiring boisterous or humorously indecent puns in many Elizabethan and Jacobean plays. The French refer to them as "cul de chien" (dog butt).

We just had the one fruit to sample but if you do find a tree in your area, there are many things you can make with them, from pie, to jelly to 'cheese'.

But I think one of the best things about the medlar is it's potential as an insult. You can call someone a medlar and they won't know you are calling them a dog's butt!