Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Happy Ending

Being that I have some extra time this week, I decided that I should experiment with some recipes that I've always wanted to make. I always write down things that I'd like to try but rarely have the time to actually make them.

For some reason, I've always wanted to make fortune cookies. They are rather simple to make (a basic almond tuile recipe) but are somewhat time consuming because they have to be shaped as soon as they are removed from the oven. This means you can only make a few at a time.

The hardest part for me, though, was finding accurate fortunes. Thank God I came across some of these guys...

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Pasta Night

After what feels like forever, my friends from school and I were able to get together for dinner. It's always a miracle when all of us happen to have the same night free, but it happened! The theme was pasta night, and my friend Emma hosted. Emma went to Eataly to pick up some amazing meats and cheeses for an antipasto, Bridgid supplied the wine, Wade brought a salad (or at least the components!) and Melanie brought in freshly baked rolls and focaccia. I made a pasta dough earlier in the day and then Emma and I rolled it out, shaped it and prepared a simple alfredo sauce. Making pasta dough is a little time consuming, but overall, a rather simple thing to do.

There are TONS of pasta dough recipes out there, the most basic made with just water and flour. Aside from all these recipes, there are different types of flour that can be used, too - semolina, all purpose, whole wheat, etc. Then of course you can mix and match the flours but that's a whole other story.

I prefer to make an enriched dough. An enriched dough is one that has anything other than water, flour and salt (and yeast, depending on the type of dough.) My recipe of choice is Anne Burrell's pasta dough recipe. It is enriched with both eggs and olive oil.

Here's the recipe. Any added notes are in blue text!


1 pound all-purpose flour
4 whole eggs, plus 1 yolk (use local, organic eggs if possible for this recipe)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
1 to 2 tablespoons water or more if needed
Put the flour on a clean dry work surface. Make a hole (this is also called a well) in the center of the flour pile that is about 8 inches wide (bigger is definitely better here). Crack all of the eggs and the yolk into the hole and add the olive oil, salt and water.

Using a fork beat the eggs together with the olive oil, water and salt. Using the fork, begin to incorporate the flour into the egg mixture; be careful not to break the sides of the well or the egg mixture will run all over your board and you will have a big mess! Also, don't worry about the lumps. When enough flour has been incorporated into the egg mixture that it will not run all over the place when the sides of the well are broken, begin to use your hands to really get everything well combined. If the mixture is tight and dry, wet your hands and begin kneading with wet hands. When the mixture has really come together to a homogeneous mixture, THEN you can start kneading. (At this point - before kneading- wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let rest for 10 minutes at room temperature. This will make the kneading process easier!)

When kneading it is VERY important to put your body weight into it, get on top of the dough to really stretch it and not to tear the dough. Using the heels of your palms, roll the dough to create a very smooooooth, supple dough. When done the dough should look VERY smooth and feel almost velvety. Kneading will usually take from 8 to 10 minutes for an experienced kneader and 10 to 15 for an inexperienced kneader. Put your body weight into it, you need to knead! This is where the perfect, toothsome texture of your pasta is formed. Get in there and have fun!

When the pasta has been kneaded to the perfect consistency, wrap it in plastic and let rest for at least 1 hour. If using immediately do not refrigerate. (This dough will hold in the fridge for a few days. When you're ready to use the dough, remove from the fridge and let it sit at room temperature for 30 minutes to an hour.)

Roll and cut the pasta into desired shape. (A traditional hand-powered pasta maker is typically capable of making linguine or spaghetti. You can also purchase an extruder attachment for a Kitchen Aid to make tubular shaped pasta. Toss the freshly shaped pasta in all purpose flour or semolina flour to keep them from sticking. Before cooking the pasta, shake off the excess flour. I find that gently tossing the pasta in a strainer works well. Pasta can be shaped and then frozen, but I prefer to make the pasta on the day that I cook it. You can also make the pasta earlier in the day and then just keep it in the fridge until you're ready to use it. Just toss the pasta occasionally with your hands to make sure it doesn't stick together!)

How smooth and supple! (Calm down Anne!)

Monday, March 7, 2011

Tracy's Birthday Cake

One of my favorite cakes in the world is Entenmann's devil food cake - you know, the one with the marshmallow frosting and chocolate crumbs. My one gripe is that you need to eat a quarter of it to feel like you've had a sufficient slice. (Or at least eat the frosting off of half of it!) Anyway, I came across a version of this cake in one of my favorite Dorie Greenspan cookbooks, Baking: From My Home to Yours. It is amazing! There are a few steps to this recipe, but the time invested is well worth it.

I've been waiting for a good reason to make it, so today, I whipped one up to celebrate my cousin, Tracy's, $%*@!# birthday. (She's officially too old for me to post her age.)

The cake itself is amazing. It is like a kicked up boxed cake. Now, being a trained pastry chef one would think I'd be anti-cake mix, but I am not. So many people love it that it doesn't pay to try to convince them otherwise. Therefore, I try to use recipes that are close enough to what people are used to but are made from scratch and use better ingredients. After you make the batter, which has cocoa powder and melted chocolate in it, you stir in chopped chocolate so that when it bakes it gets all nice and fudgy.

The frosting is just a simple Italian meringue, which is my favorite meringue. A splash of homemade vanilla extract flavors it and then it's ready to be eaten - I mean used to frost the cake...

For the cake

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 sticks (10 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled
1/2 cup buttermilk or whole milk, at room temperature
1/2 cup boiling water
4 ounces semisweet or milk chocolate, finely chopped, or 2/3 cup store-bought mini chocolate chips

For the filling and frosting

1/2 cup egg whites (about 4 large)
1 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup water
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

GETTING READY: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 8-x-2-inch round cake pans, dust the insides with flour, tap out the excess and line the bottoms with parchment or wax paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet.

TO MAKE THE CAKE: Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, 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 on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add the sugars and continue to beat for another 3 minutes. Add the eggs one by one, beating for 1 minute after each addition. Beat in the vanilla; don't be concerned if the mixture looks curdled. Reduce the mixer speed to low and mix in the melted chocolate. When it is fully incorporated, add the dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk, adding the dry ingredients in 3 additions and the milk in 2 (begin and end with the dry ingredients); scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed and mix only until the ingredients disappear into the batter. At this point, the batter will be thick, like frosting. Still working on low speed, mix in the boiling water, which will thin the batter considerably. Switch to a rubber spatula, scrape down the bowl and stir in the chopped chocolate. Divide the batter evenly between the two pans and smooth the tops with the rubber spatula.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, rotating the pans at the midway point. When fully baked, the cakes will be springy to the touch and a thin knife inserted into the centers will come out clean. Don't worry if the tops have a few small cracks. Transfer the cake pans to a rack and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unmold them and peel off the paper liners. Invert and cool to room temperature right side up. (The cooled cake layers can be wrapped airtight and stored at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to 2 months.)

When you are ready to fill and frost the cake, inspect the layers. If the cakes have crowned, use a long serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion to even them. With the same knife, slice each layer horizontally in half. Set 3 layers aside and crumble the fourth layer; set the crumbs aside.

TO MAKE THE FILLING AND FROSTING: Put the egg whites in a clean, dry mixer bowl or in another large bowl. Have a candy thermometer at hand.

Put the sugar, cream of tartar and water in a small saucepan and stir to combine. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, cover the pan and boil for 3 minutes. Uncover and allow the syrup to boil until it reaches 242 degrees F on the candy thermometer. While the syrup is cooking, start beating the egg whites.

When the syrup is at about 235 degrees F, begin beating the egg whites on medium speed with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer. If the whites form firm, shiny peaks before the syrup reaches temperature, reduce the mixer speed to low and keep mixing the whites until the syrup catches up. With the mixer at medium speed, and standing back slightly, carefully pour in the hot syrup, pouring it between the beater(s) and the side of the bowl. Splatters are inevitable — don't try to scrape them into the whites, just carry on. Add the vanilla extract and keep beating the whites at medium speed until they reach room temperature, about 5 minutes. You should have a smooth, shiny, marshmallowy frosting. Although you could keep it in the fridge in a pinch, it's really better to use it right now.

TO ASSEMBLE THE CAKE: Put a bottom layer cut side up on a cardboard cake round or on a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper. Using a long metal icing spatula, cover the layer generously with frosting. Top with a second layer, cut side up, and frost it. Finish with the third layer, cut side down, and frost the sides and top of the cake. Don't worry about smoothing the frosting — it should be swirly. Now, cover the entire cake with the chocolate cake crumbs, gently pressing the crumbs into the filling with your fingers.

Refrigerate the cake for about 1 hour before serving. (If it's more convenient, you can chill the cake for 8 hours or more; cover it loosely and keep it away from foods with strong odors.)

SERVING: I think the cake is best at room temperature or just cool, but many people prefer it cold (the texture of the cake becomes fudgier after it has been refrigerated). No matter the temperature, the cake is so pretty it should be cut at the table, so bring it out on a platter and cut it into generous wedges using a serrated knife and a sawing motion.

STORING: The frosted cake can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 days; let it stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving, or longer if you have the time.

Thursday, March 3, 2011


My friend Emma is always talking about making Nutella. Why she'd want to kill herself and make it from scratch when the real thing is delicious, is beyond me. Because of this, I decide that I want to make Nutella. After some looking around, I find the bas recipe I want to use from one of my favorite cookbook author's website, David Lebovitz. There's a fun story to read if you want to google it and see the recipe.

First of all, in case you live under a rock and don;t know what Nutella is - it's a creamy chocolate hazelnut spread. It can be found near the peanut butter in pretty much every grocery store. When I was in France, Nutella was EVERYWHERE! No, seriously. They even sold it in individual servings with dipping sticks. I was never really a fan until I had a crepe with the spread and bananas. I can almost taste it now...

I did have a problem. I couldn't find hazelnuts in the local grocery store. I wasn't about to search the island for hazelnuts so I decided to find an alternative. I came across some macadamia nuts and grabbed them.

Anyway, the recipe is fairly simple. Roast the hazelnuts with a small amount of almonds until lightly brown. Meanwhile, I melted two different chocolates (milk and semi-sweet) over a double boiler. While the chocolate is melting, bring some milk, milk powder and honey to a boil. When the nut are a soft brown, remove them from the oven and put them into a food processor. Process the nuts until they form a paste. (When you process hot nuts, they'll make a paste. When you process cold/room temperature nuts, they'll make a flour.) Add the chocolate and mix and then the milk mixture and process until everything is well combined.

That's it. (Unless you want to strain it to remove any nut particles. I didn't bother because I liked the texture.) It goes into mason jars and straight into the fridge where it will set into a perfect consistency for spreading.

Taste-wise, this version was a little more earthy and rustic. I am going to save some to compare with a batch made with the hazelnuts.

Time for a sandwich!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


This post is a little overdue. But, busy happens. This past week my friend Dawn and I hosted our first cooking class. It was a lot of fun but we definitely have to make a few changes to how we run future classes. The topic of the class was sauce. My friend Chris came with his mom, Carol, and we (they) drank wine while we prepared a basic tomato sauce, a tomato and butter sauce and puttanesca.

The most interesting thing for me was tasting the three sauces side-by-side. It's amazing how different the three sauces were even though they are all variations of each other. My fave was the puttanesca.

Every time I read my friend Emma's blog I am jealous that she is always experimenting with recipes. Everything she makes looks delish! So, I decided that I should do the same. I've had a ridiculously sized box of coconut flakes from Restaurant Depot sitting in my pantry so I decided to use some of that - but what to make?? MARSHMALLOWS!!

Marshmallows. I LOVE me some marshmallows. I'll take a gummy candy over any other. I find Alton Brown's marshmallow recipe to be the best one out there so I decided to manipulate it and make a Caribbean inspired marshmallow! I flavored it using the seeds from a Mexican vanilla bean, Mexican vanilla bean extract, rum and toasted coconut. Why Mexican vanilla bean / extract? Two reasons. Recently, Emma and I did a taste comparison of vanilla beans from Mexico, Tahiti and Madagascar. I loved the smokiness of the bean from Mexico. Also, my parents brought me back (the hugest bottle ever made) of vanilla extract from their trip to Mexico and I've been waiting for the perfect reason to use it.

Let's just say I'll definitely be making these again!