Monday, November 29, 2010

Desserts by Pierre Hermé: Lemon Loaf Cakes

I was just feeling lemony today.  That, and I realized I still hadn't made anything out of my Pierre Hermé dessert cookbook.  I mean, talk about a sin!  Plus, I needed to get rid of some crème fraîche.  I hate nothing more than spending $7 on an ingredient of which I use one tablespoon.  While most of the desserts in the book look a little more complicated, these lemon loafs are pretty straight forward.  And honestly, you can't beat a good pound cake.

The loaf weren't that hard to pull together, but when I tasted them, I was...underwhelmed.  They are lemony.  They just aren't LEMONY.  They need to take a bath in lemon syrup or something.  Maybe some lemon extract in the batter.  Maybe I just like my lemon cakes really tart.  Otherwise, they were fabulous.  I would follow the directions in small print below the recipe that suggest toasting a slice with butter.

Lemon Loaf Cakes
From Desserts by Pierre Hermé by Dorie Greenspan

2⅔ cups cake flour
¾ teaspoon double-acting baking powder
Zest of 3 lemons - removed with a zester and very finely chopped
2 cups sugar
6 large eggs, at room temperature
¾ cup crème fraîche, at room temperature, or heavy cream
3½ tablespoons rum
Pinch of salt
1 stick plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted and cooled
About 1 cup of lemon marmalade, for glaze, optional

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350F.  Butter and flour two 7½ by 3½ by 2½-inch loaf pans, dust the interiors with flour, and tap out the excess; set aside.  (These are the perfect size pans for these cakes, but they're not always easily found.  If you don't have them, use two 8½ by 4½ by 2½-inch loaf pans.  Your cakes won't be as tall, but they'll be every bit as flavorful.)  Prepare an insulating layer for the cakes by stacking two baking sheets, one on top of the other, or use an insulated (air-cushioned) baking sheet.

Sift the flour and baking powder together and reserve.

Place the chopped zest and sugar in a large mixing bowl and rub them together between your fingers until the sugar is moist, grainy, and very aromatic.  Add the eggs and, using a whisk, beat until the eggs are foamy and pale.  One by one, add the crème fraîche (or heavy cream), rum, and salt and whisk until the ingredients are incorporated.  Using the whisk or a large rubber spatula, gently stir the flour mixture into the batter in four additions; you'll have a smooth, thick batter.  Finally, fold in the cooled melted butter in two or three additions.

Immediately pour the batter into the prepared loaf pans, place them on the baking sheet(s), and slip them into the oven.  Bake for 55 to 65 minutes, or until the cakes are crowned, split down the center, and golden.  A long thin knife inserted into the center of each cake should come out dry and crumb-free.  (Check the cakes at the 40-minute mark.  If they are browning too quickly, cover them loosely with foil tents for the remainder of the baking period.)  Remove the cakes from the oven and turn them out of the pans onto a cooling rack; invert them so they're right side up.  Allow the cakes to cool to room temperature before glazing or serving.

If you want to glaze the cakes, place the marmalade in a small saucepan and bring to the boil over low heat (or heat it in the microwave oven); strain the marmalade.  Use a broad pastry brush to paint every surface (except the bottoms) of the cakes with a thin coat of glaze.  Allow the glaze to dry at room temperature before serving (or wrapping).

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Alton Brown: Good Eats Roast Turkey

I have felt like a failure for years now.  I have never been able to make a Thanksgiving turkey that is: 1) juicy, 2) cooked properly all over, and 3) tasty and brown.  I was beginning to think you couldn't have all of those things at once.  I glared at the turkey beauty shots in the cooking magazines, convinced that they had been rubbed with brown shoe polish or something.  I was a good cook, so why did my turkeys never turn out?

Well, Alton Brown saved me.  I used his recipe for roast turkey from his Good Eats television show.  It requires that you make a brine and soak the turkey the night before you plan on roasting it.  Then, Thanksgiving Day, you put that bad boy in the oven with all sorts of things shoved up in the body cavity (apple?  cinnamon stick?).  You stick a probe thermometer in the breast, walk away, and enjoy some time with your family.  And what you get is a fabulous, moist, tasty, perfectly browned turkey.  Success!!!

Good Eats Roast Turkey
From Alton Brown

1 (14- to 16-pound) frozen young turkey

For the brine:
1 cup kosher salt
½ cup light brown sugar
1 gallon vegetable stock
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1½ teaspoons allspice berries
1½ teaspoons chopped candied ginger
1 gallon heavily iced water

For the aromatics:
1 red apple, sliced
½ onion, sliced
1 cinnamon stick
1 cup water
4 sprigs rosemary
6 leaves sage
Canola oil

2 to 3 days before roasting:

Begin thawing the turkey in the refrigerator or in a cooler kept at 38°F.

Combine the vegetable stock, salt, brown sugar, peppercorns, allspice berries, and candied ginger in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Stir occasionally to dissolve solids and bring to a boil. Then remove the brine from the heat, cool to room temperature, and refrigerate.

Early on the day or the night before you'd like to eat:

Combine the brine, water and ice in the 5-gallon bucket. Place the thawed turkey (with innards removed) breast side down in brine. If necessary, weigh down the bird to ensure it is fully immersed, cover, and refrigerate or set in cool area for 8 to 16 hours, turning the bird once half way through brining.

Preheat the oven to 500°F. Remove the bird from brine and rinse inside and out with cold water. Discard the brine.

Place the bird on roasting rack inside a half sheet pan and pat dry with paper towels.

Combine the apple, onion, cinnamon stick, and 1 cup of water in a microwave safe dish and microwave on high for 5 minutes. Add steeped aromatics to the turkey's cavity along with the rosemary and sage. Tuck the wings underneath the bird and coat the skin liberally with canola oil.

Roast the turkey on lowest level of the oven at 500°F for 30 minutes. Insert a probe thermometer into thickest part of the breast and reduce the oven temperature to 350°F. Set the thermometer alarm (if available) to 161°F. A 14- to 16-pound bird should require a total of 2 to 2½ hours of roasting. Let the turkey rest, loosely covered with foil or a large mixing bowl for 15 minutes before carving.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Saveur: Colicchio and Sons' Parker House Rolls

Ah, the notorious rolls.  The rolls that have lit up like a Christmas tree.  They work for no one!  Horrible recipe!  The chef is full of it!  Um, actually, no, he's not.  It works.  This picture is proof.  I let my breadmaker do the hard work of making the dough and dealing with the first two rises.  I divided up the dough and let the pan sit on a heating pad for about half an hour on the lowest setting and then turned it off for the rest of the rise.  Voilà.  Perfect fluffy amazing rolls.  Incidentally, if you decide to use a bread maker like I did, put the milk and barley malt syrup in first, then flour, then salt, then make a little indention for the bread machine yeast, then drop the butter around the top in chunks.

Colicchio and Sons' Parker House Rolls
From Saveur magazine, November 2010

¾ cup milk, heated to 115°F
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 teaspoon barley malt syrup or dark corn syrup
2 cups all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoon kosher salt
2½ tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes, softened
¼ cup clarified butter, for greasing and brushing
Fleur de sel, to garnish

Stir together milk, yeast, and malt syrup in a large bowl; let sit until foamy, 10 minutes. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour and salt; add to milk mixture along with butter and stir with a wooden spoon until a dough forms. Transfer to a lightly floured work surface and knead until smooth, 5–6 minutes. Transfer dough to a lightly greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap; let sit until nearly doubled in size, about 1 hour. Uncover and punch down dough; cover and let sit until puffed, about 45 minutes.

Heat oven to 325°F. Portion dough into fourteen 1½-inch diameter balls, about 1¼ ounces each, and transfer to a greased 8-inch cast-iron skillet or 8x8-inch baking pan, nestling them side by side; cover loosely with plastic wrap and let sit until doubled in size, about 2 hours. Brush with clarified butter and bake until puffed and pale golden brown, 20–22 minutes. Transfer to a rack and brush with more clarified butter; sprinkle each roll with a small pinch of fleur de sel and serve warm.

Makes 14 rolls

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Molto Italiano: Risotto with Mushrooms and Vin Santo

My sister and I went to a Halloween festival downtown yesterday, and as part of the city's big push to re-invigorate the arts district, they had various specialty vendors selling beautiful things like fresh flowers and wild mushrooms.  There were two guys selling the mushrooms, and since they had a decent stash, we dug through for some good looking specimens.  And what could be better to highlight fresh mushrooms than a luscious mushroom risotto?

I don't have my entire collection of cookbooks at my disposal currently, but I did have a copy of Molto Italiano.  And it does have a risotto recipe.  Now, I've had some experiences with Mario Batali's recipes that haven't been exactly turned out, so I was a little hesitant to use his recipe.  I should have listened to my inner chef.

The risotto turned out pretty good, taste-wise, but texture-wise?  Total disaster.  The stock was not absorbed by the rice in anything approximating the time table in the book, so the rice slowly became mush.  I seem to keep having these kinds of issues!  Why, Mario, why?  I want to love your food, I really do.  Well, not all of it.  You can keep your offal.

Risotto with Mushrooms and Vin Santo
From Molto Italiano by Mario Batali

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ medium red onion, finely chopped
8 ounces porcini, sliced
8 ounces shittake mushrooms, stems removed, caps sliced
1½ cups Arborio rice
8 cups chicken stock, heated until hot
1 cup Vin Santo (or dry sherry)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a 10- to 12-inch sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat until almost smoking. Add the onion and cook until softened and translucent but not browned, 8 to 10 minutes.

Add the mushrooms and sauté until lightly browned. Add the rice and stir until thoroughly coated and opaque, about 3 minutes.

Add a 4 to 6 ounce ladleful of the stock and cook, stirring, until the liquid is absorbed. Continue stirring and adding the stock a ladleful at a time, waiting until the liquid is absorbed each time before adding more, until the rice is tender and creamy but still al dente, about 18 minutes.

Add the Vin Santo and cook until the alcohol smell is gone, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, add the butter and Parmigiano, and stir vigorously for 25 seconds. Season with salt and pepper, divide the risotto among four warmed plates, and serve.