Baking


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I think pecans may be my favorite nut.  Sure, cashews may be my favorite just to munch on, and pistachios are the best to eat while sitting around a campfire, but pecans can be transformed into so many wonderful goodies – pies, turtles,  brittle.  Not only are they the perfect baking nut – they are so addictive to eat raw.  My mom used to hide the bags of bulk pecans she would  buy for Christmas baking, because otherwise me, my brother and my father would eat them all before she got around to making them into treats.  But now that I live down south where pecans are omnipresent, there’s no need for pecan hiding.  And this abundance has led to many more opportunities to try different pecan recipes.  The most recent is a recipe for spicy candied pecans, and it has been an unmitigated success.

pecans

Now a caveat – sometimes I have to hide the spicy candied pecans because C loves this recipe so much.  If not hidden, the spicy pecans rarely last a few hours, let alone a day,  so I’ve become adept at making these at the last minute.  Since the recipe only takes a half an hour from start to finish this is not a hardship. In fact this recipe is by far the easiest recipe for candied pecans I’ve seen anywhere and I think it’s the tastiest.

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While I used measuring implements for this recipe,  if you’re good at eyeballing measurements you might want to try that to save on the sticky clean up.  The recipe calls for corn syrup, which whenever I cook with it, manages to get all over my entire kitchen.  You combine the corn syrup with sugar, salt, ground pepper and Tabasco sauce.  I won’t tell you how much Tabasco sauce to put in because it all depends on how spicy you like your pecans – obviously the spicier you like your nuts the more shakes of Tabasco.  I would warn you to taste the sugary mixture as you go – a few too many shakes of the Tabasco bottle and the the mixture could be fiery hot.

unbaked-pecans

After the sugary mixture is the correct spicy temperature, you mix in the pecans.  Don’t worry that the mixture won’t cover the pecans evenly, as the melting process will take care of that in the oven.  I would urge you to cover a baking dish with foil and then spray it with Pam or some other baking spray  –  it will save your sanity by making clean-up easier.  Once the pecans are in the baking pan, they go in the oven.  You stir once or twice to make sure the pecans get all the sugary mixture, but you basically let them bake for 15 minutes.

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Once that 15 minutes is up you have to work fast – use a fork to separate the pecans on another piece of foil sprayed with Pam.  If you dilly-dally you’ll get a big hunk of candied pecans.  Not the worst thing.  I suppose you could treat it like peanut brittle and chop it up – but it’s better if you have individual candied nuts.  Once cool you can store in any covered container –  except the nuts probably won’t last that long if anyone hungry is around the house.   Which is fine – this recipe is so easy you can always make more!

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Spicy Candied Pecans

Nonstick vegetable oil spray
3 T.  corn syrup
1 1/2 T. sugar
3/4 t.  salt
1/4 t.  (generous) freshly ground black pepper
Tabasco Sauce (to taste)
1 1/2 C. pecan pieces

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Line with foil and spray baking sheet with nonstick spray. Combine corn syrup and next 4 ingredients in large bowl. Stir to blend. Add pecans; stir gently to coat. Transfer to baking sheet.

Place large piece of foil on work surface. Bake pecans 5 minutes. Using fork, stir pecans to coat with melted spice mixture. Continue baking until pecans are golden and coating bubbles, about 10 minutes. Transfer to foil. Working quickly, separate nuts with fork. Cool. (Can be made 3 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.)

Makes 1 1/2 cups

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So clearly it’s been awhile since our last post.  I have no excuses except  for work, school, life, and a DVR full of West Wings.  And here it is almost Christmas  – that wonderful food-filled holiday – and this blog has been silent.  As an early New Years resolution I resolve to do better – to post more, to take more pictures, to experiment more in the kitchen.  There is holiday baking to be tackled and Dorie Greenspan’s Brownie Bites are the perfect place to start.

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When I was growing up, one of my good friends got a chocolate orange every Christmas.  At the time I was more entranced by the fact that orange would magically split into perfect sections once opened rather than the combination of orange and chocolate.  Truthfully,  I’ve  never been one to like fruit flavors with my chocolate – usually I think it messes up the perfect balance of chocolate.  But chocolate and orange seem to go together around Christmas; when I saw that Dorie’s recipe for Brownie Bites  called for orange zest it seemed to be a sign that this could be a new option to add to the cookie tray.

brownie-batter

The batter was easy to put together.  You just melt the chocolate, brown sugar and butter; once this mixture is off the heat you add vanilla, an egg, some sugary orange zest and flour.  It’s a basic brownie recipe – the thing that makes this cute and Christmasy  is that fact that they are cooked in mini muffin pans.  Once popped out of the pans and cooled, the brownies really do look like buttons.

brownie-bites

But what really makes these special is the white chocolate glaze.  Simply melt white chocolate chips then dip the tops of the brownie buttons in the melted chocolate and twist your wrist as you pull them out.  If you do it right it looks like the brownies have a cute little white hat on – just right for a Christmas cookie tray.

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Brownie Buttons
from “Baking, from my Home to Yours” By Dorie Greenspan

Grated Zest of 1/2 Orange
1 teaspoon Sugar
1/4 Cup plus 2 Tablespoons Flour
Pinch of Salt
1/2 Stick (4 Tablespoons) Unsalted Butter, Cut into 4 Pieces
2 1/2 Ounces Bittersweet Chocolate, Coarsely Chopped
1/3 Cup (Packed) Brown Sugar
1/2 teaspoon Pure Vanilla Extract
1 Large Egg

For the optional Glaze:
2 Ounces White Chocolate, Finely Chopped

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly butter two miniature muffin pans, each with a dozen cups, and place them on a baking sheet.

If you’re using the orange zest, combine the zest and sugar in a small bowl, rubbing them between your fingertips to blend: set aside. Whisk together the flour and salt.

Melt the butter, chocolate, and brown sugar in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over very low heat, stirring frequently with a heatproof spatula and keeping an eye on the pan so that nothing overheats or burns. When the mixture is smooth, remove from the heat and cool for a minute or two. Stir the vanilla, egg and the zest into the chocolate mixture. When the mixture is well blended, add the flour and stir only until it is incorporated. You should have a smooth, glossy batter.

Spoon the batter into 16 of the muffin cups, using about a teaspoon of batter to fill each cup 3/4 full. Put 1 teaspoon of water in each empty cup.
Bake for 14-16 minutes, or until the tops of the buttons spring back when touched. Transfer the pans to racks to cool for 3 minutes before carefully releasing the buttons. Cool to room temperature on the racks.

To make the glaze: Melt the chocolate over a double boiler. Stir constantly and don’t leave the chocolate for even one minute- white chocolate scorches easily. As soon as the chocolate is smooth, remove from the heat.

One by one, dip the tops of the buttons into the chocolate, twirling the buttons so that you get a little swirl at the center of each one and the excess chocolate drips back into the bowl. Refrigerate the buttons for 15 minutes to set the glaze.

Ah, Banana Bread.  Is there any other baked good that you have to plan a week in advance to make.  You might get your craving for Banana Bread on a Monday, but by the time you buy the under-ripe super market bananas and wait impatiently for them to ripen it might be Sunday, and by then you might have a whole new craving.  That’s why when I was presented with three perfectly ripe bananas by my visiting in-laws, I knew I had to seize the moment.  Banana bread must be made.

Actually, in truth the bananas could have used a day or two more.  Then they would have been overripe – totally black and ugly – absolutely perfect for banana bread.  But these three normally ripe bananas would have to do.  When peeled and mashed they gave me almost a cup and half of banana mush – the amount needed to make my mom’s famous banana bread.

Now my mom makes this bread for everything.  When I was growing up it was her go-to homemade Christmas gift,  her go-to breakfast item, heck, there were times it was her go-to dessert.  Because this bread is dense and moist it can serve all of these purposes and more.  Plus it freezes beautifully.  Many people have received previously frozen banana bread as gifts from my mom and were never the wiser.

The only thing I’ve ever changed about my mom’s recipe is the spices.  Since I’m addicted to nutmeg I always tend to add bit of freshly ground nutmeg.  This time I also added in a pinch of cinnamon.  Personally, I think they give the bread a nice warm spiciness, but to honest, Mom’s original recipe works just fine.  You really can’t go wrong – either eat it yourself or give it away.  Or just hoard it in your freezer, since you never know when that banana bread craving will attack, and there’s no better way to be prepared.

Banana Bread

Makes 1 loaf

Ingredients:

1/2 cup butter

1 cup sugar

1 1/2 cup mashed bananas

2 eggs beaten

1 t. vanilla

2 cups flour

1 t. baking soda

1/2 t. salt

1/2 cup milk

pinch of nutmeg and cinnamon (optional)

1/2 cup walnuts or pecans

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325 degree.  Butter and flour a loaf pan.

Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt in one bowl and set aside.  Cream butter and sugar together.  Add in the mashed bananas, eggs and vanilla.  Add in the flour mixture.  Add in the milk as well as the nutmeg, cinnamon and nuts it needed.

Pour mixture into the prepared loaf pan.  Bake for 1 to 1 1/2 hours.  Remove from oven and let rest in the pan for 15 minutes.  Then remove from pan and let fully cool on a rack.

To freeze – double wrap the loaf in aluminum foil and place in a zip lock plastic bag.

Sigh

I rarely meet a cornbread I don’t like, but I definitely have a favorite. Some cornbreads are more like cake — sweet, fluffy, and very mild. Those are good, but real cornbread, at least to this Southerner, is not sweet at all but rather is nuanced with the savory flavor of bacon and it’s texture is granular — not at all cake-like. My favorite is my mom’s. It ranks among my favorite comfort foods. It is a reminder of home and family.

Just like Mom's

There are a couple of things about this cornbread that are important to know. 1. It’s good no matter what but it’s brilliant if you use the recommended bacon grease. Bacon grease? Disgusting! Not at all, my friends. Trust me on this one. The next time you make bacon, don’t throw that liquid gold away-save it and use it. You’ll be blown away by how it transforms soup, stews, potatoes, and cornbread.

Cornbread

2. You can fry this cornbread like pancakes, or you can bake it in a cast iron pan. I love my cornbread-shaped cast iron pan. I got it from my grandmother, and it’s black and well-seasoned from years of use. The cornbread comes out looking like little cornsticks that make the perfect accompaniment to any fall soup or stew.

Cast Iron Pan

Mom’s Cornbread
2 cups self-rising cornmeal (I always use Martha White)
2 teaspoons sugar
1 large egg
2 tablespoons AP flour
1 1/2 cups milk
Bacon Grease

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place about one tablespoon of bacon grease into each mold in the cast iron pan (if you aren’t using a cast iron pan like the one shown above, you can use a regular muffin pan. Put approximately 1 tablespoon of grease into each muffin cup). Place the cast iron pan in the preheated oven to allow the grease to heat. Leave the pan in the oven for about 10 to 15 minutes.

In a large bowl combine cornmeal, sugar, egg, flour, and milk. Mix thoroughly. Allow batter to sit while the cast iron pan heats in the oven. Once the pan is heated, remove it from the oven and pour batter into each mold filling to nearly the top.

Bake until golden brown (about 10 to 15 minutes). Serve immediately.

Over a year ago, C and I took a trip to Sao Paolo, Brazil for our friends’ wedding.  Before heading out, another friend who had grown  up in Brazil gave us the low down on what to expect.  Along with the usual traveler admonishments that inevitably come with foreign travel, she told us to be sure to try Pao de Queijo – Brazilian Cheese Breads.  She told us they were wonderful and addictive, but to be honest, they sounded a bit odd.  All the same, we promised to try them.  Once we made it to Sao Paolo, they were everywhere – on street carts, at the dinner table, at the airport – and they were, as promised, delicious.  We fast became addicted and in the end literally spent our last bit of Brazilian money at the airport, while waiting for our plane, buying up all the ‘cheese breads’ we could find.

Back in the U.S. we just couldn’t forget about those Brazilian cheese breads.  I looked for an easy recipe, but every one I found called for tapioca flour.  That should have been my cue to look for tapioca flour, but instead I kept putting it off, and putting it off, until I forgot about it.  In fact, if I hadn’t picked up Ingrid Hoffmann’s  Simply Delicioso from the library, those cheese breads might have been lost to my memory.  Instead as I was flipping through the cookbook, I saw her recipe for Yucca Buns and realized that this was the recipe I was looking for.

Apparently these sort of cheese breads are found all over Latin America.  They’re called Chipas in Argentina, Arepas in Colombia, and Pan de Yuca is Ecuador.  These breads are sort of tough to describe.  They are crisp on the outside and doughy/cheesy/chewy on the inside.  Made with tapioca flour – which makes them gluten free – the dough has a texture unlike anything I’ve seen, almost like play-do.  In the end tapioca flour wasn’t that hard to find; it was just in the natural food section of the grocery store rather than the normal baking section – hidden in plain sight.

All in all they are fairly easy to make – tapioca flour, baking powder, egg yolks, a bit of heavy cream and, of course, cheese.  The recipe I used suggested Oaxaca cheese, which I did not have and which I did not feel like driving to find.  Instead I used a mixture of 1 1/3 cups of mozzarella  and 2/3  cup cheddar.  The buns turned out great – cheesy and chewy. I had added a bit of garlic powder, so there was a garlicky flavor that went well with all that cheesiness.  They weren’t as spectacular as what we had in Brazil – foods you eat on great vacations are never as good when you try them at home – but they were a pretty good substitute.  I’m sure we’ll make them again and again all the while dreaming of Brazil.  As they say in Portuguese, Bom Apetite!

Yucca Buns

Adapted from Simply Delicioso by Ingrid Hoffmann

Ingredients:

1 cup tapioca flour, plus extra for kneading

1 teaspoon baking powder

(I added a few shakes of garlic powder as well)

2 cups Oaxaca cheese or other fresh white cheese, such as mozzarella, finely grated

2 large egg yolks

2 to 3 tablespoons heavy cream, if necessary

Directions:

reheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking pan with aluminum foil, and coat with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside.Combine the tapioca flour and baking powder together in a large bowl. Stir in the cheese and egg yolks. Mix until the dough forms a ball. Lightly flour a work surface and turn the dough out. Knead the dough with your hands until the dough is smooth, even-textured, and not sticky. If the dough doesn’t come together or seems too stiff, then add cream, 1 tablespoon at a time, until it comes together and feels supple.

Divide the dough into 10 even pieces and with your hands, roll each into a ball. Shape the balls into ovals and place them 1-inch apart on the prepared baking sheet. Bake until the rolls are pale gold (not browned), about 15 to 20 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for 5 to 10 minutes and serve while still warm.

So it should come as no surprise that I love homemade pizza. What’s not to love? It’s easy, it tastes good, and it tends to impress anyone who doesn’t make homemade pizza themselves. And while I love the ‘classic’ pizza combination of red sauce, mozzarella and Italian sausage, when I’m in the mood for something special, nothing beats a smoked salmon and brie pizza.

There’s nothing too labor intensive about this recipe. The only thing you need to make ahead is the pizza dough – and really, any recipe for pizza dough will work. Heck, if you’re not in the mood to wait the hour and a half to make homemade pizza dough you can check with your local grocery store to see if the bakery sells uncooked pizza dough. It’s an easy time saver that I have been known to use.

The cut-up brie is easy enough to prep. When I make this recipe I always throw the brie in the freezer for 15 minutes before I cut the rind off. The sub-zero temperature firms up the cheese and makes it much easier to cut into small pieces. I don’t have any trick to make the salmon easier to cut up – in fact, depending on the smoked salmon you use it may be easier to tear into little pieces rather than cutting it. As with everything in this easy recipe, use what works best for you.

The rest of the process is pretty self explanatory. Because the brie and smoked salmon are rather delicate – at least at high temperatures – you need to blind bake the pizza crust without any toppings. Once the crust is almost brown, you pull it from the oven and quickly scatter the cheese, salmon and onions over the top. Another few minutes in the oven melts everything together. What comes out is a wonderful combination of a pizza and a Sunday morning lox bagel. I would advise anyone making this to cut the pizza slices small, since the dish can be very rich. But even in a small slice the wonderfulness of homemade pizza makes it all worthwhile – and you never know who it might impress.

Smoked Salmon and Brie Pizza

Adapted from New Pizza by James McNair

Ingredients:

Pizza Dough

Vegetable or olive oil for brushing crust and drizzling over toppings

1 pound of brie cheese, rind discarded and cut into small pieces

12 ounces thinly sliced smoked salmon cut into small pieces

1/2 cup minced sweet onion ( I used green onions)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 500 degrees (My oven smokes at that temperature – so I used 450 and it turned out fine). Brush pizza screen or pan with oil. Stretch out the pizza dough and place on the screen or pan. Prick the dough all over with a fork, then brush with oil.

Put the crust in the oven and bake until the crust just begins to brown (around 5-7 minutes). Remove the pan from the oven and top the crust with the cheese, followed by the salmon and onion. Drizzle evenly with oil. Return to the oven and bake until the crust is golden (around 5-7 minutes longer).

Remove the pizza from the oven and let stand for 2 minutes. Slice and serve immediately.

It’s funny how a simple lunch time conversation can lead you down a cooking rabbit hole. J and I were having lunch a few weeks ago and we were remembering a simply sublime cornmeal and lemon curd cookie that is made by Marché, one of our favorite East Nashville lunch places. That led us towards contemplating lemon curd, and considering that our planned-for Kitchen Confit Peach Week was on the horizon, we wondered if it was possible to make peach curd. A few simple web searches later and I discovered that apparently a few brave souls had tried peach curd. With the idea stuck in my head I knew I needed to try it – what I was going to do with it once I made it, I was wasn’t quite sure. But I knew eventually I would come up with something.

The recipe I found for peach curd was pretty basic: egg yolks, sugar, lemon juice, butter and peach puree. The recipe also called for rosewater. Rosewater is a traditional Middle Eastern ingredient, made from rose petals and distilled water. Now at this point, rosewater did not reside in my cupboards, but I was determined to fix that. I must say, rosewater was surprisingly hard to find from more commercial gourmet sources – Williams Sonoma did not carry it (they suggested driving to Atlanta to find it!) and it was absent from the Whole Foods shelves. Not about to despair, I dropped into the International Market at the Nashville Farmers Market. They carried several varieties of rosewater and I grabbed the one in the prettiest bottle (it was also the cheapest!).

With rosewater in hand, I was ready to begin the curd. I combined the yolks, sugar, peach puree, lemon juice and rosewater. I placed this mixture over a pot of simmering water and I whisked. And whisked. And whisked. You’re supposed to do this until thickened and the mixture did thicken. I just wasn’t sure how much it should thicken. In retrospect, I should have whisked a few more minutes, since after beating in the butter and straining, the curd was a bit runny. I had hoped that the curd would thicken more as it chilled – and it did, a bit – but not as much as I would have liked. But the curd would serve for my purposes… it had become a peach tart.

From this point on, I was kind of winging it. I made a sweet tart dough and blind baked it. Once it was cool I poured in the peach curd. I knew I needed to top the the peach curd with more peaches, but I wasn’t sure if they should be raw or cooked. In the end I decided to poach the peaches in a mixture of sugar, water, brandy and lemon rind. After twenty minutes in this syrup, I took the peaches out, sliced them and then attempted to arrange them in a circular patten on top of the peach curd. And in the end this haphazard dessert was delicious – a bit messy, since the peach curd really should have been a bit thicker – but delicious all the same. Thank goodness for foodie lunch conversations and cooking rabbit holes!

Peach Curd and Poached Peach Tart

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Peach Curd

Recipe from epicurean.com

Ingredients:

4 egg yolks

2/3 c. sugar

1 c. fresh peach puree

Lemon juice to taste, about 1 T.

1/2 t. rosewater to taste, about 1 T.

6 T. butter

Directions:

Beat the yolks, sugar, peach puree, lemon juice, and rosewater. Put mixture over summering water and whisk constantly until thickened. Remove from heat and beat in the butter, a little at a time. Strain well and and chill.

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Sweet Tart Dough

Recipe from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours

Ingredients;

11/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 c. confectioners’ sugar
1/4 t. salt
1 stick plus 1 T. (9 tablespoons) very cold (or frozen) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg yolk

Directions:

Put the flour, confectioners’ sugar and salt in a food processor and pulse to combine. Scatter the pieces of butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is coarsely cut in. Stir the yolk, just to break it up, and add it a little at a time, pulsing after each addition. When the egg is in, process in long pulses—about 10 seconds each—until the dough, which will look granular soon after the egg is added, forms clumps and curds. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and knead the dough just to incorporate any dry ingredients that might have escaped mixing.

Butter a 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. Press the dough evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Freeze the crust for at least 30 minutes before baking. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a piece of aluminum foil and fit the foil, buttered side down, tightly against the crust. Put the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake the crust for 25 minutes. Carefully remove the foil. Bake for another 8 minutes or so, or until it is firm and golden brown. Transfer to a rack and cool completely before filling with the peach curd. Refrigerate.

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Poached Peaches

2 c. water

1 1/2 c . sugar

1 c. brandy

Rind of 1 lemon – peeled in thick strips

2-3 peaches – halved and pitted

Bring all the ingredients except the peaches to a boil in a pot large enough to hold the peaches. Add the peaches and simmer for 20 -25 minutes or until tender. Remove from the syrup and slide the peaches out of their skins. Once cool slice the peaces lengthwise and arrange the slices in a circular pattern on top of the peach curd. Chill. To serve, remove the tart from the tart pan and slice.

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