Sunday, May 2, 2010

TWD Rewind: Perfect Pound Cake

This was another of those recipes I made while I was on medical leave, and craving some good old-fashioned comfort.

On the plus side, it tastes very light and delicious, and it's easy to bung together. I've had trouble with pound cakes in the past; they tend to come out squat and hard. No such problems with this one; it went together like a dream and came out tasting like one.

That's the good news.

The not-so-good news (the CHALLENGE, as we say in the corporate world) is the texture. I don't know...I just didn't like it. It came out a tad dry, and with almost a cotton candy-fluffy crumb. It was very Sara Lee-ish, and oddly, Dorie called this out as a plus in her recipe intro. I didn't see it as so plus-y.

I ATE it, don't get me wrong. And I liked it. But the texture wasn't what I was hoping for in a pound cake. I guess I'll keep looking for MY Perfect Pound Cake.

Dorie's Perfect Pound Cake

(Source: Dorie Greenspan “Baking: From My Home to Yours” p. 222)

2 cups all-purpose flour (or 2-1/4 cups cake flour)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Getting Ready:
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Butter a 9×5-inch loaf pan or an 8-1/2 x 4-1/2-inch loaf pan. Put the pan on an insulated baking sheet or on two regular baking sheets stacked one on top of the other.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar on high speed until pale and fluffy, a full 5 minutes. Scrape down the bowl and beater and reduce the mixer speed to medium. Add the eggs one at a time, beating for 1 to 2 minutes after each egg goes in. As you’re working, scrape down the bowl and beater often. Mix in the vanilla extract. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour, mixing only until it is incorporated – don’t overmix. In fact, you might want to fold in the last of the flour, or even all of it, by hand with a rubber spatula. Scrape the batter into the buttered pan and smooth the top.

Put the cake into the oven to bake, and check on it after about 45 minutes. If it’s browning too quickly, cover it loosely with a foil tent. If you’re using a 9×5 pan, you’ll need to bake the cake for 70 to 75 minutes; the smaller pan needs about 90 minutes. The cake is properly baked when a thin knife inserted deep into the center comes out clean.

Remove the cake from the oven, transfer the pan to a rack and let rest for 30 minutes.

Run a blunt knife between the cake and the sides of the pan and turn the cake out, then turn it right side up on the rack and cool to room temperature.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Chockablock Cookies: A Hit

Remember the Chockablock Cookies I made for last week's Tuesdays with Dorie? (By the by, this week's recipe is Burnt Sugar Ice Cream; weekend guests, you have been warned.)

Well, I took them to the office this morning, because they were just too deadly to have around the house. I was a little nervous about them, because they were full of weird dried fruits and pumpkin seeds, and I wasn't sure how they'd go over.

Well, they went over a STORM. Holy cow. This may be one of the more popular things I've made. The Russian, who doesn't really go crazy for sweets, had THREE. One guy was eating one in the elevator and another guy told him, "Dude...your eyes are glowing."

(Which may be because my cookies were awesome, or because he's an alien robot. You decide.)

Fortunately, I was smart enough to keep them on my desk so most of my friends all got one, and I didn't get in trouble. (If I put something in the kitchen, they disappear pretty quick.)

So, if I wasn't enthusiastic enough, go make these cookies. You won't regret it.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Alas, Poor Crack House

For the past five years, the house next door to mine has sat empty, slowly decaying and falling apart. It had actually been sadly neglected, with a jungle growing in its yard, for some years before that; that's just how long I've known it.

In the past two years or so, it's become a well-known meeting spot for meth dealers and crackheads, and a place for hitchhikers on the coastal highway to crash.

No longer. Today, I came home to this:

Poor old Crack House. On one hand, I'm glad to see it go. The cops were over there quite a bit, and I had to install security because of people jumping my fence.

On the other hand, it was an old house and at one point, apparently, it was well-loved. There were probably a lot of good memories in that house.

Then again, there were a lot of bad, and there was no hope of restoring it, so in the end, it's probably for the best.

Rest in Peace, Crack House.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

TWD: Chockablock Cookies

Oh, she sneaks under the wire!

I mean really under the wire, since - although I've thought of them for days - Tuesday morning dawned with my still not having made these cookies. And since I'd only made one Tuesdays with Dorie recipe this month, I risked getting kicked out if I didn't get to them.

And then, lo! My day did turn to rubbish. And we all know what the cure for a Really Bad Day (tm) is...


So I threw together the batter tonight. (Like most of Dorie's cookies, it comes together in a jiffy.) I did halve the recipe, and then only baked two, because there's only so much temptation you should invite in when you're recovering from Bad Day-itis. The others will be baked when I'm feeling a little more stable, and promptly packed up for the coworkers.

Why? Because they're freaking awesome. I was all "Oh, I'm on a diet...I'll just eat one" and promptly hoovered them both up. Rotters.

Why am I suddenly speaking in English slang? Maybe it was because I replaced the molasses with Lyle's Golden Syrup. I love Golden Syrup - a British version of corn syrup with much more flavor - with a love to rival a thousand suns, and I kind of detest molasses. Reading the recipe, I was already considering swapping them out, and when I read on the TWD forums that others had done the same thing, off I went.

As for the mix-ins, I used a kind of strange mixture of cranberries, almonds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, papaya, apples and ... something else. It sounds strange, but mixed with the oats and coconut, it worked really well. I also added Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate chips, which are more like flat discs and melt in striations throughout the cookie. Heaven.

These are a good, hearty "cookie jar" type cookie, and I definitely intend to make this one again.

Want the recipe? Head over to Popsicles and Sandy Feet.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Rosemary Focaccia

Boy do I have a lot of catch up posts to do, and this is one of them. When I was off on medical leave, I was feeling very pitiful and sorry for myself. And there's only one cure for my self-pity:


Not ice cream or cake or a bottle of wine. (Okay, maybe a bottle of wine.)

Yes, bread: soft and hot right from the oven. And since I don't have any bakeries within walking distance, that meant I did a lot of baking when I was on medical leave. And for the first time, I baked focaccia. Specifically, Rosemary Focaccia, with fresh rosemary straight from my garden.


Now, focaccia has always been one of those things that scared me to death. Why? I'm not sure. It just seemed like it had to be very complicated and tricky.

Well, of course, it's not that complicated and tricky at all. It's pretty easy, in fact, particularly since you bake it on a baking sheet. But I'm still scared of it. Know why?

It's delicious!!!

Holy cow. I'm going to be totally honest with you guys, 'cause we're all friends here, right?

I ate the whole thing.

YES. The WHOLE PAN. Okay, it took me a couple of days, but oh, my. Not a good thing. I actually haven't made it since; not because it's too hard or anything, but because I'm afraid I'll eat it all again.

But I think of it. A lot.

Just a note: This is best the day you bake it, but it will work the next day if you toast the pieces. (Which is delicious, especially with a little butter and a pot of tea.)

Rosemary Focaccia
(adapted from America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book, which I cannot recommend highly enough)

1 medium russet potato, peeled and sliced into large chunks
3 1/2 to 3 3/4 cups (17 1/2 to 18 3/4 ounce) all purpose flour
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 envelope instant or rapid-rise yeast
1 1/4 teaspoons table salt
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary (not dried)
Coarse sea salt or kosher salt for sprinkling

Boil the potato in water until easily pierced by a fork, about 10 minutes, then remove potato with a slotted spoon. Reserve one cup of the water; set aside to cool until just warm (110 degrees). When the potato is cool enough to handle, grate it on the large holes of a box grater. (You should have about 1 cup of lightly packed potato.)

Mix the cooked potato, 3 1/2 cups of the flour, 2 tablespoons of the oil, yeast, and table salt in a standing mixer fitted with the dough hook. With the mixer on low speed, add the reserved potato cooking water and mix until the dough comes together, about 2 minutes.

Increase the mixer speed to medium-low and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes. If after four minutes more flour is needed, adding the remaining flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough clears the sides of the bowl but sticks to the bottom.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and knead by hand to form a smooth, round ball. Place the dough in a large, lightly oiled bowl and cover tightly with greased plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Coat an 18 by 13-inch rimmed baking sheet with 1/4 cup more oil. Press the dough into the prepared baking sheet with wet hands. Brush the dough with 1 tablespoon more oil, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, 45 to 75 minutes.

Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 425 degrees. Dimple the dough with wet fingertips, then drizzle with the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil. Sprinkle with the rosemary and coarse salt.

Bake until the focaccia bottom is golden and crisp, 20 to 25 minutes, rotating the baking sheet halfway through baking. Transfer the focaccia to a wire rack and let cool for 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

TWD: Swedish Visiting Cake

What better way to come back to Tuesdays with Dorie (and posting in general; sorry about that) than with my FAVORITEST ALL TIME DORIE GREENSPAN RECIPE OF ALL TIME.

For serious.

This Swedish Visiting Cake is phenomenal on multiple levels. First, it takes one bowl. Second, it takes only a handful of ingredients. And except for maybe the almonds and the lemon, you have all those ingredients already.

There's no complicated creaming or fancy techniques. You even melt the butter before you pour it in. A quick stir and voila.

Even better, you bake it in a cast iron skillet! How cool is that?! I was going to bake it in My Baby (a 100-year-old, beautifully seasoned cast iron skillet), but realized it was a tad too big. So I pulled out the Le Creuset I hardly ever use, and that now has a new purpose in life: To bake this cake. Over and over and over.

Because - as if the easiness and the coolness of cast iron wasn't enough - this cake is fracking delicious. It's moist and yet sturdy, and there's a delicate taste of lemon to it that's not overpowering. It's perfect with a cup of tea.

As with most of my baked goods, I tried this out on the guys I game with. There were only three of us, and we decimated the entire thing. (I was actually grateful I had two guys here, because I might have done the same if it were just me and then I'd have to go to confession.)

One guy said that he didn't believe dessert was dessert without chocolate in it, but he was making an exception for this cake.

So, there you have it. Awesome dessert to throw together quickly that is not only easy, but totally delicious.

Get the recipe at The Dogs Eat the Crumbs. (How cool of a blog name is that?)

And hi!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Cheddar Cheese Beer-Batter Bread

I read tarot cards.

Odd way to start off a post about bread, I know, but hang in there with me a second. Anyway, I read tarot cards, but I only read for friends. I can't read for myself and I can't read for pay; it's really something I do to help people I care about. And from what I've been told, it does exactly that.

So, if you are my friend, and you need guidance or help on something, you call me up and ask for a reading. And with that reading usually comes a big helping of comfort food, like this cheddar bread. (See? Told you I'd get there.)

I'm actually not sure if it's the food or the readings that keep people coming back, but it makes my friends happy, and that's what matters.

This is a super easy bread; absolutely no kneading is involved. You just mix everything together, pour over melted butter, and bake. The beer is what gives it both its lift and its yeasty flavor. I like to serve this with my Guinness Beef Stew.

Oh, and slight warning: You know how you always like to taste the dough when you're baking, cause the dough's the best part?

Do not do that with this bread.

For serious. Ugh.

But the bread's good!

Cheddar Cheese Beer-Batter Bread

8 oz. extra-sharp cheddar cheese (shred 4 ounces and cut the rest into small cubes)
3 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 12-ounce can of American-style beer (like Bud)
4 tablespoons melted butter

Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat to 375 degrees. Grease a 9x5 loaf pan.

Combine all cheese, flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Stir in beer and mix until well combined. Pour into loaf pan and spread evenly. Drizzle melted butter evenly on top of batter.

Bake until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean, 45-50 minutes. (You may want to check it in a couple of places, in case you hit a pocket of cheese.) Cool in pan 5 minutes, then turn onto a rack to cool completely before slicing.

(This is awesome toasted for breakfast the next day.)