Sunday, August 07, 2011

Sunday Sweets: Almond and Chocolate Chunk Biscotti

There can never be such a thing as too much chocolate. And this choc-almond studded biscotti found no lack of contenders in my house. This was my very first attempt at making biscotti and is also the first recipe I've tried from the newest addition to my collection of cookbooks: Ready for Dessert by David Lebovitz

Ryan, a fellow-baker from BWD, suggested we start baking our way through another book and after much deliberation we decided on this new collection of recipes by David Lebovitz. We'll slowly go through each recipe in the book and anyone is welcome to join in. Details can be found here

Baking this biscotti turned out to be deceptively simple. I prepared ingredients for half the recipe, shaped the dough into one log and then placed it in the oven to bake for the first twenty minutes. It came out looking perfect. So far so good. But then, given the 90F+ heat, my hot kitchen and the concentration of chocolate in this recipe, I was faced with a gooey mess each time I cut into the log. There was melted chocolate all over the place and it made it completely impossible to get the thinner slices I was aiming for. 

Skeptical, and a little frustrated, I popped the slices in the oven for another 20 minutes and mentally prepared myself for the alternatively titled 'disasters in baking' blog post I was going to write about the whole experience. I needn't have worried because whatever they lacked in appearance was more than compensated by flavor. They were a tad bit sweet for me so I would either cut down the amount of sugar in the recipe or simply use bittersweet chocolate. I never expected my kids to care for biscotti so they surprised me by going through the whole batch pretty quickly and, like DL, taking some along to snack on during our very long flight the next day. 

This first recipe was chosen by Ryan and can be found on Page 216 of Ready for Dessert. Please hop over to Ryans' blog to check out her take on the biscotti. Next up we'll make Orange Cardamom Flan chosen by me. If you'd like to be part of our baking challenges, please drop us an email at sundayssweets at gmail dot com. We'd love to have you bake along!

Friday, August 05, 2011

Curry-Palooza: Eggplant with Crushed Mustard Seeds & Yogurt

This week I had the opportunity to try a brand new curry involving certain techniques that I'm not at all familiar with. Margie of More Please picked this rather unusual recipe by Madhur Jaffrey who, I am convinced, has a knack for taking a few simple ingredients and turning them into something amazing. Every single time. 

This curry uses 'Paanchporan' - a Bengali spice-mix that I have never used before but discovered is the same thing as 'achari masala/spice-mix' which I have indeed used & am very fond of. I made my own 'Paanchporan' since I had all the whole spices on hand (it requires equal parts of cumin, nigella seeds, aniseed, black mustard seeds and fenugreek). I was skeptical about using such a large (seemingly to me) amount of fenugreek because experience has taught me that it has to be used sparingly or it lends a certain bitterness to curries. The recipe also requires the unusual method of crushing the mustard seeds, mixing them with water along with a bare pinch of cayenne pepper and simmering the eggplant in this mixture. Atypical as it was I found that this technique lent a wonderful 'mustardy' aroma to the curry and gave it a deep, yet unsaturated,  note of flavor. 

That said, I had a few minor issues with the execution: I diced my eggplant smaller than indicated, so it cooked faster and  turned out a little mushy. In addition to which the yogurt split when added and I found that the fenugreek did indeed make the curry a teeny bit bitter so it did not go down well with the rest of the family. Maybe it's my/our taste buds, or maybe it's that I need to improve on the technique of cooking with this particular spice, but I intend to reduce the amount of fenugreek seeds significantly when I prepare my Paanchporan mix next time. It's a shame about the bitterness because, otherwise, I really like the flavors in this simple and quick-cooking curry.

I know for a fact that the other Curry-Palooza members had no such issues & really enjoyed this curry. The recipe can be found on Margie's blog. Please check out the participants' posts by following these links:

Curry-Palooza is a monthly event. Members take turns picking random recipes each month & next up it's Camille's pick. I'm hoping she will throw a challenge our way!

If you'd like to join in the fun, please email either Rocquie or myself

Monday, August 01, 2011

Baking With Dorie: Crème Brûlée

I've always been intimidated by crème brûlée imagining it to be a very complicated dessert that I couldn't possibly make at home. So I was very excited about this months' pick & was looking forward to halving the recipe and trying at least a few of the variations in the 'playing around' section. But then, too lazy to do the math, I ended up making only the classic version. 

Dorie's directions suggest a baking time of 50-60 minutes but the custards were very jiggly at that point and it took me almost double the recommended time to get them cooked. I chilled them overnight and caramelized a few the next morning. How best to describe it? The crème brûlée was wonderfully silky, as delicious as anything I've ever had at a restaurant with its pleasingly contrasting layers of torched sugar and cool custard. 

As usual, this is a winner from Baking from my home to yours. The variations of this recipe can be found on pages 393-4 of the book. I'm including the classic version right here. I'm hopeful that others from BWD will have played around with the recipe! For links to participating blogs this week, please go to the comment section of the related post here

Next up we're making the Peppermint Cream Puff Ring, picked by Tina. If you'd like to be a part of our baking group, please email me at needfulthings at ymail dot com. We'd love to have you bake along with us. 

Crème Brûlée

1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup whole milk
3 large egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract

About 6 tbsp sugar or sifted light brown sugar for topping

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 200F. Put the baking dishes on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicone mat. 
Bring the cream and milk just to a boil. 
In a 1-2 quart glass measuring cup or in a medium bowl, whisk th egg yolks, sugar and vanilla together until well blended but not airy. Still whisking, drizzle in about one quarter or the hot liquid - this will temper, or warm, the yolks so they won't curdle. Whisking all the while, slowly pour in the remainder of the cream and milk. Give the bowl a good rap against the counter to de-bubble the custard, then strain it into the baking dishes. 

Bake the custards for 50-60 minutes, or until the custards are set - tap the sides of the dishes, and the custards should hold firm. Lift the dishes onto a cooling rack and let the custards cool until they reach room temperature. 

Cover each custard with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, preferably longer. (The custards can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.) For the sugar to be successfully caramelized, the custards need to be thoroughly chilled. 

To caramelize the sugar topping with a blowtorch, work on one dish at a time. Sprinkle the top of each custard evenly with sugar - about 1 tablespoon for each dish - then brown the sugar, cooking until it bubbles and colors. Wait until the bubbles subside before serving the crèmes. 

To caramelize the sugar in a broiler, preaheat the broiler and fill a shallow roasting pan with the ice cubes. Sprinkle the custards with the sugar, put the baking dishes on the bed of ice and run the custards under the broiler. Don't move away from your oven - depending on your broiler, it can take seconds or minutes to caramelize the sugar, and you don't want to miss the moment and ruin the topping. When the sugar bubbles and browns, pull the custards out, remove them from their ice bed and let them settle down before serving. 


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