Cupcake Round-Up 2: Linzer Cupcakes

October 19, 2007 at 4:57 pm | Posted in cupcakes, events, sweet things | 12 Comments

linzer cupcakes

I always like making the traditional versions of my favorite classics, but I’m game for a bit of a switch-up, too.  Reinvention using seasonal ingredients is actually the theme for the second Cupcake Round-Up, co-hosted by two cupcake bakers extraordinaire: Garrett of Vanilla Garlic and Cheryl of Cupcake Bakeshop.  Inspired by a packet of raspberries in the fridge, I thought the flavors of a linezrtorte would translate well into a cupcake.

I admit I’m a little confused about seasonality here in Australia.  Things that I would never think I would find at certain times of the year pop up in the framers’ market unexpectedly.  And some things, like rhubarb, seem to be widely available year-round.  I have started to see Aussie raspberries, while still outrageously priced (I’ve had to get used to the fact that produce in general is much more expensive here than in the US), being sold for about half the super-outrageous price they were sold for a couple of months ago.  Based on cost, I have decided that raspberries must at least be coming into season (it is almost summer here).  I haven’t had a fresh raspberry since I moved here nine months ago, so I bought a packet. 

I began my little linzer cuppies with a recipe for hazelnut cake from Gina DePalma, pastry chef of the excellent Babbo Restaruant in Manhattan.  As written below, I tweaked it a bit to incorporate some of the other flavors found in a linzertorte (and to use up some sour cream I had in the fridge), but if you want Chef DePalma’s original recipe, you can find it here on Babbo’s website.  The recipe, originally for a single 8″ round, makes twelve perfect cupcakes…I was so pleased.  I made sure they stayed moist with a little douse of simple syrup and filled them with fresh raspberries.  Topped off with raspberry buttercream and garnished with more fresh berries and candied hazelnuts, they were every bit as good as the real thing, and without any fussy lattice work or soft dough. 

linzer cupcakes

The cupcakes take several steps, although none are hard.  But, if it’s one of those days, and you don’t feel like futzing with buttercream and candied nuts, everyone will still love you if you do a simplified version…

linzer cupcakes

Linzer Cupcakes makes 12 regular-size cupcakes

Note:  If you don’t have seedless raspberry jam for this recipe, just press jam with seeds through a strainer to remove.  Or if you want the seeds, use seeded jam instead.

-Start with a batch of simple syrup (recipe below).

-Bake the hazelnut cupcakes (recipe below).  Lightly brush warm cupcakes with simple syrup, then cool completely.

-Make and cool the candied hazelnut garnish (recipe below).

-Make the raspberry buttercream (recipe below). 

-Prep the fresh raspberries.  Depending on size, estimate 3 or 4 raspberries for filling each cupcake, plus extras for decoration.  Loosen few tablespoons (or as much as needed to coat your berries) of raspberry jam with a squirt of lemon juice.  Toss the raspberries into the jam, turning them to coat.  Keep them whole– try not to smash them up.

-To fill the cupcakes, use a small knife or round cookie cutter to cut a plug out of the center of each (going in from the top).  Save the top bit of each plug.  Spoon a small amount (about 1/4 teaspoon) of simple syrup into each cavity.  This is just to keep the cakes moist…don’t drown them.  Put a few jammy raspberries into each cavity.  Cover with the top bit so the filling is not exposed.

-Top with buttercream and garnish with candied hazelnuts and jam-coated raspberries.

Simple Syrup– makes more than you will need, but keeps for a long time and has many uses

1 cup sugar
3/4 cup water

-Combine sugar and water in a small saucepot.  Mix gently with your finger so sugar isn’t stuck to bottom or corners of pot.  Try not to get a lot of sugar on the sides of the pot above water level (cooking time is short, so it shouldn’t crystallize, but just to be safe…)

-Bring just to a full boil, at which point all the sugar should be dissolved.  Shut off heat.

-Transfer to a jar or airtight plastic container for storage.  This will keep in the refrigerator for weeks.

Hazelnut Cupcakes– makes 12 cupcakes 
adapted from a recipe by Gina DePalma

Note:  If you can’t find hazelnut flour in stores, you can make your own by toasting 1 cup of skinned hazelnuts for five minutes in a 350°F oven.  Cool them completely and pulse them along with 1/4 cup all-purpose flour in the food processor until finely ground but not pasty.  Substitute this mixture for the hazelnut flour in the recipe and only use 1 cup of all purpose flour when proceeding with the third step (as the extra 1/4 cup is already accounted for in your hazelnut flour mixture).

1 cup hazelnut flour
1 ¼ cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
10 T (1 ¼ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
¾ cup sugar
1 t ground cinnamon
1/4 t ground cloves
1 1/2 t lemon zest, finely grated
2 T hazelnut paste or hazelnut butter
3 eggs
1/4 cup sour cream
1 t vanilla extract
½ t kosher salt
1 t baking powder

-Preheat the oven to 325°F.  Line your cupcake tin with paper liners.

-In a small bowl or liquid measuring cup, lightly whisk together the eggs and sour cream.

-In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the butter and the sugar until very light.  Beat in the spices and lemon zest first, followed by the hazelnut paste or hazelnut butter.  Then gradually add the egg and sour cream mixture.  Scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula and beat in the vanilla extract.  In a small bowl, mix together the hazelnut flour, all-purpose flour, salt and baking powder.  Beat the dry ingredients into the batter until just combined.

-Divide the batter evenly among the cupcake liners.  Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.  Allow the cupcakes to cool in the tin for 10 minutes.  Lightly brush tops with simple syrup while still warm.  Then gently remove from the tin and cool completely on a rack.

Candied Hazelnuts

handful of skinned hazelnuts
simple syrup to coat (couple tablespoons probably)

-Preheat oven to 350°F.

-Pop hazelnuts in half by sticking the tip of a small sharp pairing knife into the tops of each one.

-Toss them with enough simple syrup to lightly coat (just to make shiny).

-Turn them into a small sheet pan or baking dish, keeping them in a single layer. Bake just until golden and simple syrup hardens, about 10 minutes. 

-When cool enough to handle, separate them so they don’t stick together and cool completely.

Raspberry Buttercream makes about 2 cups
adapted from Cook’s Illustrated’s recipe for vanilla buttercream in
Baking Illustrated

2 large eggs
1/2 cup (3.5 oz) sugar
1 t vanilla extract
pinch of salt
8 oz unsalted butter, softened but still cool, cut into pieces
1/3 cup seedless raspberry jam, loosened with a squirt of lemon juice
1/4 t cinnamon

-Bring a few inches of water to a simmer in a medium saucepot.  In the bowl of a standing mixer, whisk together the eggs, sugar, vanilla and a pinch of salt.  Set the bowl over the simmering water (making a double boiler).  Whisk gently but constantly until the mixture reaches 160°F.  It should be thin and foamy.

-Transfer the bowl to the mixer and whip until light, airy and room temperature.  This should take about five minutes.  Reduce the speed and whip in the butter, piece by piece.  If it looks curdled halfway through, it should come together as you add the remaining butter.

-Once all the butter is incorporated, beat on high speed for about a minute until light and fluffy.  Add the raspberry jam and cinnamon and beat until just incorporated.  You can refrigerate, covered, for up to five days.

Stop the Traffik: White Chocolate and Almond Tartufi

October 7, 2007 at 4:40 pm | Posted in events, ice creams & frozen, sweet things | 17 Comments

white chocolate & almond tartufi

I haven’t always given as much thought as I do now about where my food comes from, but over the last few years I have tried to become a better educated and more responsible shopper and eater.  This is not just in terms of nutrition and what is in my food, but also in terms who is growing, making and selling it, and what is involved in its production.  When I saw that R khooks was hosting a  Stop the Traffik Chocolate Competition to promote awareness of child labor on cocoa plantations, I definitely wanted to contribute a submission.

How do you know the cocoa beans in the chocolate you are buying haven’t been harvested by the hands of children or forced laborers?  One way is to look for the fairtrade label, showing that the product complies with international standards regarding fair prices, labor conditions and environmental sustainability, among other things.  There are several brands of fairtrade chocolate that are pretty easy to find, so I went to my local healthfood store to have a look.  I saw an organic brand called Cocolo that I hadn’t tried before, and picked up a couple bars of their dark chocolate and a bar of white chocolate with almond crunch. Then I spent some time wondering what I’d do with them.  I broke off a teeny sample of each.  Truthfully, all white chocolate makes my teeth hurt a little, and eaten straight-up this one was no exception, but the crunchy almond bits were what attracted me to it.  At 58%, the dark chocolate was a bit sweeter than I would normally use, but it was smooth and I knew I could put it to good use.  My plan for the chocolates would take a couple days from start to finish, but I decided to make tartufi– delicious little balls of chocolate-coated ice cream with a cherry hidden in the center.

Cocolo fairtrade chocolate

First I made a regular custard-style ice cream base, adding in chopped white chocolate and almond extract after it was off the heat.  I like to make my base the night before I plan to spin my ice cream, so it can have time to chill really well before I use it.  And since I don’t have a self-freezing ice cream machine I put my canister in the freezer at the same time.  This way, every thing is good to go the next morning, and I can even churn the ice cream while I’m getting ready for work.

Once I had my white chocolate and almond ice cream made, I put it away to firm up before scooping.  It’s a good idea to put a plastic lined sheet tray in the freezer as well, so you have a cold suface ready to go when you form your tartufi.  It will take several hours of chilling before the ice cream will hold a round shape (although if you find you’ve jumped the gun and they get a bit melty, just put your ice cream scoops back in the freezer for a couple hours and gently reshape).  About ten minutes before scooping, I macerated some drained canned dark cherries with a couple drops of almond extract.  I used a spring-loaded 1 3/4-inch scoop to make nice round balls of ice cream, tucking a cherry into each one as I scooped.  Then they went back into the freezer overnight.

white chocolate & almond tartufi-- insides

While there is a lot of wait-time involved in making tartufi, the only challenging part is coating them in chocolate.  I saw one recipe that advised skewering each tartufo with a toothpick and dunking them one-by-one in the melted dark chocolate.  I managed this for my first one, but after that, the ice cream was sliding around on the toothpick and the chocolate was getting too cold.  Potential disaster!  On to plan B, which was using a couple spoons to gently coax the glaze onto each ball.  There is also plan C, which is just to put a nice spoonful of glaze on top of each tartufo, and let it drip down around it.  I did for that about half of my tartufi.  While they were not completely encased in chocolate, they still looked pretty. 

Made with lousy ice cream, tartufi can be pretty lackluster.  But with great-flavored homemade ice cream, I can’t even tell you how *seriously fabulous* these are.  And they taste even better knowing you have made them with fairtrade chocolate! 

stop the traffik

If you want to read more on cocoa production and fairtrade standards, here are a few places to start: Stop the Traffik, Fair Trade Certified and FLO International.

White Chocolate and Almond Tartufi makes 15 pieces

-Make the ice cream and chill it until it is quite firm (recipe below).  Place a plastic-lined sheet tray in the freezer for later.

-About 10 minutes before scooping, drain 15 canned dark cherries.  Put into a small bowl and toss with a couple drops of almond extract.  Set aside to macerate.

-To form each tartufo, scoop a round ball of firm ice cream (I used a spring-loaded 1 3/4-inch scoop), inserting one cherry in the center as you scoop.  Place onto the chilled plastic-lined sheet tray.  Repeat for each one, and then return to the freezer for several hours or overnight.  You may have extra ice cream (which is delicious as is)…you can can save it in case your scoops melt a little on you.  If that is the case, re-form with the ice cream scoop, using extra ice cream if needed, and re-chill before dipping.

-Once your scoops have chilled firm, make the chocolate glaze (recipe below).  Pour into a cup or a deep bowl.  Use the technique that works best for you to coat the scoops in the chocolate.  You can either dip them with a skewer, use two spoons to turn them in the glaze or simply spoon the glaze over them.  Gently re-heat glaze if you need to.

-As you go, sprinkle each tartufo with toasted chopped almonds before the chocolate sets.

-Return to freezer for at least an hour before eating.

White Chocolate and Almond Ice Cream– makes about a quart

300g heavy cream
300g whole milk
pinch of salt
100g sugar
3 large egg yolks
1/2 t cornstarch
100g white chocolate, chopped (I used white chocolate with bits of almond)
1 t almond extract
pinch xanthan gum (optional, can be found in healthfood stores)

-In a small, heavy bottomed saucepot, combine the milk, cream, salt and half the sugar.  Bring to a simmer.

-Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks, cornstarch and remaining sugar together in a medium bowl until pale and thickened.  Also, place your chopped white chocolate into a separate medium bowl and set aside.

-Once the liquid reaches a simmer, temper the yolk mixture and return the whole thing to the pot, whisking.  Place over low heat and use a spatula or wooden spoon to stir constantly.  Do not boil it, but get it thick enough to coat the back of the spoon/spatula and hold a line if you wipe your finger through it.  This will take several minutes.

-Pass through a fine sieve into the bowl containing the white chocolate.  Let it sit for a minute or two to melt the chocolate.  Whisk to combine and add in almond extract.  Also add in the xanthan gum if using (I didn’t measure, just threw in a good pinch.  The tiniest amount will help keep your ice cream from getting icy while in freezer, but this is optional.)

-Chill over an ice bath until room temperature.  Then cover and refrigerate overnight.  (The next day, give it a taste before you churn it and add more almond extract if the flavor is not strong enough for you.)

-Spin chilled base according to your ice cream maker’s instructions.  Transfer to an airtight container and freeze for several hours until firm.

Dark Chocolate Glaze

200g dark chocolate, chopped
1 1/2 T unsalted butter
1/2 t vegetable oil

-Melt chocolate with butter and oil over a double boiler or in the microwave, stirring well to combine.  This glaze will set crunchy when chilled.

CH#1: Cherry-Lime Rickey Cupcakes

September 29, 2007 at 5:03 pm | Posted in cupcakes, events, sweet things | 8 Comments

cherry-lime rickey cupcakes

I can’t really pretend to wax nostalgic about 1950s soda shops.  Sure, I’ve been to couple of old-school diners and lunch counters in NYC, but they aren’t exactly the type of place where I picture my dad shared a malted with his best girl on a Saturday night as Bobby Darin sang out from the jukebox.  I totally have a thing for soda fountain drinks though.  Besides a good egg cream, there is another classic I adore– the cherry-lime rickey.  Since Laurie from quirky cupcake has just kicked off a new event called ‘Cupcake Hero,’ and this month’s theme ingredient is lime, I thought I’d take a stab at recreating a cherry-lime rickey (non-carbonated, of course) in cupcake form. 

I started with a basic vanilla cupcake, flavored with a bit of lime zest.  Lots of other bloggers have had great success with Billy Reece’s Vanilla, Vanilla Cupcake recipe (he made it on the Martha Stewart Show awhile back),  so i thought I would give it a try myself.  It was easy to make, and the cupcakes baked up fluffy and nice–don’t overfill them though!

While the cupcakes were baking, I made a batch of lime curd and parked it in the fridge to chill.  Then I whipped up some vanilla buttercream, portioned out what I needed for the cupcakes at hand, and refrigerated the rest for another time.  To give the buttercream flavor, I added a bit of cherry jam, some chopped cherries  and some chilled lime curd.  I filled my cooled cupcakes with cherry jam and lime curd, topped them with cherry buttercream, and added a little garnish.  A cherry-lime rickey cupcake…coolsville.  I dig it.

cherry-lime rickey cupcakes

Cherry-Lime Rickey Cupcakes makes 12 regular-size cupcakes

-Start with a batch of baked and cooled vanilla cupcakes flavored with lime zest.  (I used Billy’s Vanilla, Vanilla Cupcakes.  Not wanting 30 cupcakes, I did a half batch and mixed in the zest of one lime at the end.)

-Make and chill the lime curd (recipe below).

-Make the vanilla buttercream (recipe below).  Flavor it with a spoonful of cherry jam, 1/4 cup of lime curd and a handful of chopped cherries (fresh or canned).

-To fill the cupcakes, use a small knife or round cookie cutter to cut a plug out of the center of each (going in from the top).  Save the top bit of each plug.  Put a small blob of cherry jam at the bottom of each cavity, then fill the rest up with lime curd.  Cover with the top bit so the curd is not exposed.

-Top with buttercream and garnish with a cherry and a lime slice.

Lime Curd– makes about 1 2/3 cups

2/3 cup sugar
3 eggs
1/2 cup strained lime juice 
zest of 1 lime
pinch of salt
4 T unsalted butter

-Bring a few inches of water to a simmer in a medium saucepot.  In a heatproof bowl, whisk together the sugar, eggs, lime juice and zest and a pinch of salt.  Set the bowl over the simmering water (making a double boiler).

–Whisk frequently until thickened.  Becasue it’s over a double boiler, you can walk away for a minute or so if need be.

-Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter, a bit at a time, until it is fully incorporated.

-Pass through a fine sieve into a clean bowl or container.  Press plastic wrap directly on surface and refrigerate until cold.  Either use it up or transfer to an airtight container, keeping plastic wrap on the surface for storage.  This way, it can keep in the fridge for about a week.

Vanilla Buttercream makes about 2 cups
adapted from Cook’s Illustrated’s Baking Illustrated

2 large eggs
1/2 cup (3.5 oz) sugar
1 t vanilla extract
pinch of salt
8 oz unsalted butter, softened but still cool, cut into pieces

-Bring a few inches of water to a simmer in a medium saucepot.  In the bowl of a standing mixer, whisk together the eggs, sugar, vanilla and a pinch of salt.  Set the bowl over the simmering water (making a double boiler).  Whisk gently but constantly until the mixture reaches 160°F.  It should be thin and foamy.

-Transfer the bowl to the mixer and whip until light, airy and room temperature.  This should take about five minutes.  Reduce the speed and whip in the butter, piece by piece.  If it looks curdled halfway through, it should come together as you add the remaining butter.

-Once all the butter is incorporated, beat on high speed for about a minute until light and fluffy.  You can refrigerate, covered, for up to five days.

HHDD#15: Butterscotch Tart

September 27, 2007 at 7:54 pm | Posted in events, pies & tarts, sweet things | 24 Comments

butterscotch tart

I had been wondering what to do with the chocolate tart dough in my freezer, leftover from last month’s Daring Bakers’ Challenge.  Then along came Hay Hay It’s Donna Day hosted by Sarina the TriniGourmet!  Sarina picked tarts for this month’s theme, so I it was the perfect time to use that stuff up.

In my excitement over the latest cookbooks with glossy pages and beautiful photos, I sometimes forget about the old classics that are also on my bookshelf.  James Beard’s American Cookery may be paperback, and may just have a few black and white illustrations of old-school kitchen gadgets, but it is not to be neglected.  It is one of the most useful books I have.  Flipping through it while my husband was watching something uninteresting on TV the other night, I came across his recipe for butterscotch pie.  Butterscotch is a real favorite of mine…my first choice for a sundae topping, without a doubt.  I thought that if I took his custard filling and the dough I already had, I could make some pretty nice little tartlettes.  Finished off with a little whipped cream, it made a great old-fashioned dessert.

Although you can use your favorite tart dough (chocolate or plain), or even a crumb crust, you can find the recipe for the dough I used at Veronica’s Test Kitchen.  As is, it is quite a big batch (enough for three 9.5-inch tarts), but can easily be scaled back to make a half or a third of the quantity.  Blind bake the chilled dough in the tart or tartlette pans, docked and weighted, until fully cooked.  Let the crust cool completely before filling.  If it will take you a couple of days to finish the tart/tartlettes, I have a tip to keep your crust from getting soggy under the custard filling.  You can lightly “paint” the insides of a cooled chocolate crust with some melted chocolate and put it in the refrigerator for the chocolate to set.  This acts as a barrier between the filling and crust.  For a plain crust, you can get a similar result by lightly painting the insides with egg wash while still hot (just out of the oven, so the egg wash doesn’t remain raw).  If you plan to finish the tart the day it is made, or if you are using a crumb crust, you can skip this step.

butterscotch tart

Butterscotch Pie- makes one 9-inch pie or tart or twelve 3.5-inch tartlettes
adapted from James Beard’s American Cookery

3-4 T butter
1 1/4 cups light brown sugar
3 cups whole milk, light cream, or half milk and half evaporated milk
2 eggs
7 T all-purpose flour
1/4 t salt
1 t vanilla extract
splash of dark rum (optional–my modification)
fully baked crust or tartlette shells

-Melt the butter in a 2-quart saucepan.  Add the brown sugar and stir until reaches 220°F (will bubble up and look slightly browner).  Add 2 cups of the milk and whisk to combine.

-In a bowl, whisk the eggs, flour and salt to combine.  Then whisk in the remaining  cup of milk.

-When the sugar/milk mixture is hot but not boiling, slowly stir in the egg mixture (I tempered my eggs with some hot liquid first).  Treat this like a pastry cream, whisking constantly over medium-low heat until it just bubbles.  Turn down the heat (very low) and cook one or two minutes longer.  Take off the heat and beat in vanilla and rum, if using.

-Strain through a fine sieve into a clean bowl, press plastic wrap directly on surface and cool to room temperature.

-Turn into baked, cooled crust.  Smooth surface with on an offset.  Press plastic wrap on surface and refrigerate until fully chilled, about three hours.

-Top with lightly sweetened whipped cream (or rum whipped cream!).

SHF#35: Fig and Raspberry Compote over Ice Cream

September 25, 2007 at 11:51 am | Posted in events, ice creams & frozen, other sweet, sweet things | 11 Comments

fig and raspberry compote

OMG…there are so many events I want to do this month, and of course I’ve saved them all until the last second!  I’ve always been a procrastinator, so this is really just par for the course.  But anyway, there will be lots of desserts for R and me (and a barrage of posts for you) this last week of September!  So to kick things off, I’m starting with what’s due in just a couple of hours– Sugar High Friday!  This month’s hostess is Ivonne, author of the addictively delicious Cream Puffs in Venice, and she’s chosen ‘The Beautiful Fig‘ as her theme.

For a long time I thought figs were really not so beautiful.  Fig Newtons (to me anyway) are gross, and so fresh figs suffered from guilt by association.  I never even had one until my mid-twenties.  I was surprised to find that a fresh fig is sweet and soft, smells great, is pretty and pleasantly seedy–nothing like the icky pasty stuff inside a Newton!  I am still not crazy about dried figs, unless they have been heavily booze-soaked.  But alas, the fruit (it’s actually a flower, as I read on Cream Puff’s blog) was to suffer another setback when the most annoyingly twitty boy in my culinary school class described a fresh fig as being like a certain part of a woman!  Ack–why, WHY did I have to hear that, especially from him?!?  Some mental scarring still remains, but I no longer take things out on the innocent fig.  

fresh figs

My inspiration for this recipe comes from Regan Daley’s recipe for oven-roasted figs with honey and orange in In the Sweet Kitchen, one of my bookshelf favorites.  I tweaked the technique and ingredients a bit because the figs right now in Sydney are maybe not quite as beautiful as their fall counterparts up in the Northern Hemisphere.  Chef Daley roasts the figs in the oven in a bath of orange juice, honey and spices.  I gave this method a test drive last week, and it truly tasted fabulous, but it kind of drained the color out of my figs.  I like to get a pretty picture you know, so I tried again, reducing my liquid to a loose syrup on the stove top before adding the figs to just briefly soften.  Once off the heat, I then stirred in a handful of raspberries for some extra visual pop (not to mention they taste great with figs).  I let the compote cool just slightly and then put it over vanilla ice cream.  I think it would be great with yogurt, too.  Scrummy and beautiful!

Fig and Raspberry Compote– makes three or four servings, depending on how much fruit you use

1 orange, zested and juiced
1 cinnamon stick
2 cardamom pods, smashed
1/4 c honey
2 T sugar
pinch of salt
2 T unsalted butter

several figs, quartered (I used 5 figs, but you could throw in a couple more)
handful of raspberries (fresh or frozen)

-Combine the orange juice and zest, cinnamon stick, cardamom pods, honey, sugar and salt in a small sauce pan.  Simmer until cooked down and slightly syrupy.  Whisk in the butter.

-Add the cut figs, tossing in the syrup.  If your figs are ripe and soft, you can remove the pan from the stove top, and the residual heat from the syrup should warm them through.  If your figs are on the firm side, continue to gently simmer in the syrup until they soften slightly, about five minutes.

-Once off the heat, discard the cinnamon stick and cardamom pods.  Toss in the raspberries, coating with syrup.

-Allow to cool for about 10 minutes before spooning over ice cream.

HHDD#14: Potato Gnocchi with Summer Vegetables

August 18, 2007 at 4:25 pm | Posted in events, savory things | 16 Comments

potato gnocchi with summer vegetables

Oh potato gnocchi, why do you torture me so?  Homemade gnocchi has been a bit of sore spot for me.  I’ve made the leadballs, and even worse, the disintegrators– the ones that fall apart in the simmering water, leaving you with a pot full of mess and no dinner.  So why am I even bothering to try again?  First, because I LOVE them (!), and second, because gnocchi is the theme for this month’s Hay Hay It’s Donna Day, hosted by Cafe Lynnylu.  It doesn’t hurt that I finally had one of my restaurant buddies show me a good technique, either.

Bake the potatoes in a salt crust (this helps them really dry out) and rice them while they’re still hot.  Then let them cool to room temperature before adding the other ingredients.  Making the gnocchi dough is definitely a “by feel” kind of thing.  Start with some flour and add more as you lightly knead the dough, until its no longer sticky and you can move it around easily.  Going overboard on the flour, however, will give you dense gnocchi.  Then let the dough rest before rolling and shaping.  I’ve never seen this step in any books, but it my friend swears that this is crucial to avoiding those aforementioned “disintegrators.”

Although R would rather have a heavy Bolognese covering his gnocchi, I decided to slice and dice a few veggies to go with them.  I quickly sautéed matchsticks of zucchini and carrot along with grape tomatoes, minced garlic, snap peas and corn in some butter and olive oil.  Then I threw in a splash of chicken stock and cooked it down to make it a bit saucy.  I tossed through the cooked gnocchi, and after a little s&p and grated Parmesan, my dish was done.  And it was light and delicious.

P.S.  I saw Donna Hay give a live demo in Sydney in June.  R was convinced she didn’t exist, and thought it just a brand-name.  She is in fact very real, is quite funny and cooked a lovely dinner party menu.

veggies for gnocchi

Potato Gnocchi – makes 4-6 servings

3 large baking potatoes
Kosher salt for crusting potatoes
1 1/2 egg yolks
4 oz all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
1 handful of Parmesan (grated)
salt and pepper to taste

-Scrub potatoes, dry with a tea towel and lightly crust with Kosher salt.

-Place on a baking sheet, and bake in a 400°F/200°C oven until baked though (about 45-60 minutes).

-Peel and rice potatoes while still hot.  Spread riced potatoes over a sheet tray to cool to room temperature.

-Add egg yolks, Parmesan and salt and pepper to cooled potatoes.

-Add in initial amount of flour and combine mixture with your hands.  Add in additional flour as needed until you have a cohesive dough that’s no longer sticky.  (I probably needed another 2 ounces or so for my batch…depends on the potatoes.)  Do not overwork.  Form into a large log and let rest on a floured surface, covered with a tea towel for 15-20 minutes.

-Break off pieces of dough and roll them into ropes on a floured surface.  (If the rope falls apart when you roll it, knead in a bit more flour.)  Use a paring knife or a metal bench scraper to cut the rope into 3/4″ pieces.  Toss in a little flour to keep from sticking together and move aside while you proceed with the rest of the dough.

-Bring a large pot of water to the boil.  Salt it as you would pasta water.  Cook gnocchi in batches to avoid overcrowding, and simmer until they float to the surface.  Remove with a slotted spoon.

**Extra uncooked gnocchi freezes well.  Spread them on a sheet tray in a single layer and freeze for about an hour.  Then put in a zip-top bag or airtight container for freezer storage.

browniebabe #3: Milk Chocolate Brownies with Wattleseed

August 16, 2007 at 4:22 pm | Posted in cookies & bars, events, sweet things | 6 Comments

milk chocolate brownies

Woo-hoo!  It’s browniebabe time again over at Once Upon a Tart.  Myriam continues to taunt us all with her super-cute apron!  I’ve already declared my love for all things plain and simple when it comes to brownies, so I really tried hard to think of an uncomplicated brownie that was a little different.

The last time R went to the States was back in February.  I gave him a shopping list to stuff to bring back…Crystal hot sauce, Diamond Kosher salt, Jif, Quaker oats, Cascade dishwasher tabs (how this guy made it through customs, I do not know).  When he called from the airport while waiting for his flight back to Sydney, I tacked one more last-minute item to the list: a Gourmet magazine from the airport bookshop. 

A recipe on the last page of that issue has stuck out in my mind since– milk chocolate brownies.  I’m definitely a dark chocolate fan (and the higher the percentage, the better), but this sounded interesting.  I went out and got myself a couple bars of Lindt Excellence, which in the same issue, Gourmet named as their preferred milk chocolate for general cooking purposes.

I bought some wattleseed awhile back, but still hadn’t used it.  This is something that I’ve had in restaurant desserts here, and was excited to find at my spice shop.  Wattleseed is from the Acacia plant, native to Australia, and is often described as tasting like a combination of chocolate, coffee and hazelnut.  All good things for a brownie I think, so I eye-balled in a couple teaspoons to the recipe.  I don’t think wattleseed is readily available outside Australia, but a little instant espresso powder will do the trick if you are looking to make the flavor a bit deeper (I always put it in my dark chocolate brownies anyway).

milk chocolate brownies

These brownies were surprisingly good, and I’d definitely make them again.  They had a perfect texture–crackly tops and chewy, but not raw, centers.  They were thankfully not as sweet as I’d imagined they would be.  They had a nice caramely flavor from the chocolate with a hint of coffee from the wattleseed.  The seeds and the extra milk chocolate that gets stirred in as chips at the end give the brownies a little crunch.   

If you want the basic milk chocolate brownie recipe, you can find it in the February 2007 issue of Gourmet magazine, or here on Epicuious.

Blogging by Mail– Thanks Rai!

August 13, 2007 at 4:43 pm | Posted in events | Leave a comment

Blogging by Mail

Last month, I signed on to participate in Blogging by Mail, an event hosted by Happy Sorceress Stephanie of Dispensing Happiness fame.  I packed up a few of my favorite things (some long time favorites and other “new” Aussie discoveries) and had them whisked away to a far-off address, supplied to me by Stephanie.  Then I not-so-patiently waited for a box of someone else’s favorites to make its way to me.  I can’t tell you how excited I was to go to the post office today and pick up my package! 

When I got home, I tore open the box, and found it had been sent by Rai from Ugly Fruit.  Even though she’s just moved home to Iowa after spending three years abroad, and she’s working on setting up a new business, she still had time to put together a really fun package, containing:

-a handwritten note from Rai, introducing herself and explaining what she’d sent
-a cookbook called Cooking USA (I’ll have to start with the recipe from Iowa–corn casserole!)
-a CD from Iowa musicians, the Barn Owl Band (this will be on while I make dinner tonight)
-corn muffin mix (in a hilariously cute ear of corn “outfit”)
-strawberry fruit leather (which I love, and ate immediately after snapping the photo)
-jars of cranberry honey and peach butter (I know what I will put on my toast tomorrow morning!)
-an “Iowa…more pigs than people” magnet
-a soy bar and ranch-flavored soy nuts
-an Iowa geode (which I promptly cracked open with a hammer to see the sparkly crystals inside)
-a form from Australia Post saying that it had quarantined some unpopped popcorn (drat–sorry, Rai)

I have never been to Iowa myself, so thanks so much, Rai, for sending Iowa to me!

And thanks very much to Stephanie, as well, for organizing the event.  She clearly put a lot of thought into matching everyone up, and I truly appreciate the time and effort spent.

Who received the package I sent?  Why, Mai and Kevin, authors of the lovely blog Feed Your Vegetarian.  Check it out!

SHF#33: Tropical Pavlova

July 27, 2007 at 10:02 am | Posted in events, other sweet, sweet things | 17 Comments

tropical pavlova

I only realized that it was time again for Sugar High Friday when I saw the great-looking posts popping up on other blogs.  Recipes with mango, coconut, pineapple…it didn’t take a genius to see that this month’s host Mary from alpineberry has chosen “tropical paradise” as the theme.  Right on time, too.  I could use something lighter– I’ve just about OD’ed on chocolate mud cake from that madhatter I decorated over the weekend.  Also, there’s a really good selection of tropical fruit here (I think Queensland is a big growing region).  It all looks really nice and is easy to find.

I didn’t have to wonder long what tropical concoction I would make.  The new issue of delicious. magazine was in my mailbox on Tuesday, and on the cover was a winter pavolva with poached quince and cinnamon whipped cream.  Of course those particular flavors wouldn’t whisk me off to palm trees and hot sand, but I immediately thought that a pavlova would be an excellent vehicle for tropical fruit.  So I went to the market and came back with passion fruit, mango, papaya and star fruit.  To amp up the tropicaliness (new word!) of the dessert, I folded a little fine desiccated coconut into the meringue before baking and I sweetened the whipped cream with soft palm sugar.

If you’ve never had a pavlova before, it’s a legendary Australian dessert, although I think the Kiwis also argue that it’s theirs.  I don’t who’s right about that, but I do know that crispy-on-the-outside, chewy-on-the-inside meringue topped with whipped cream and tropical fruit will make you feel like you are somewhere far away from your small city apartment.

tropical pavlova

Tropical Pavlova – makes 4 servings
adapted from delicious. (August 2007)

for the meringues:
2 egg whites
pinch of salt 
125 g superfine sugar
1/2 t white vinegar
1/2 t vanilla extract
1 t cornstarch
2 T desiccated coconut (optional) 

for the whipped cream:
200 ml heavy cream
2 T palm sugar (can substitute 2 T powdered sugar, sifted)

for the fruit:
use whatever you like

-for the meringues: Preheat oven to 230°F/120°C.  Draw four 9 cm circles on a sheet of parchment, leaving space between.  Flip the parchment over and use to line a baking sheet (make sure your circles are visible beneath the sheet).

Using a mixer, beat whites with a pinch of salt until they hold soft peaks.  Gradually sprinkle in the superfine sugar, beating well between each addition.  Whip until the whites are stiff and shiny.  Carefully fold in the vinegar, vanilla, cornstarch and coconut (if using).  Pile meringue onto circles on baking sheet and spread to size, making an indent in the center of each.

Bake for 50 minutes.  Meringues should be crisp on the outside.  Turn off oven, crack door slightly and cool meringues in oven for 1 hour.  Remove from oven to finish cooling.

-for the whipped cream: Whip the cream to soft peaks with the sugar.

-to assemble: Pile whipped cream on top of the meringue indents. Top with cut fruit.

I’m back, and I’ve been tagged

July 19, 2007 at 5:39 pm | Posted in events, other stuff | 1 Comment

all whisks and spoons

I’m back at my desk chair, all moved into my new apartment, with the DSL finally up and running.  Thanks for all the comments to my last couple of posts while I was away– it was really nice to have so many waiting for me!

I’m working on a couple of new recipe posts, and hope to have them up next week.  In the meantime though, I’ve been tagged for the “eight things” meme (my first) by KJ over at A Cracking Good Egg.  Thanks, KJ!  Maybe my facts are not so interesting, but they are definitely random…

My Eight Random Facts:

1.  I am horribly bad housekeeper.  One of my least favorite things is folding clothes, and I use the dryer as a dresser until another load of laundry must be done.  Yes, my clothes are often wrinkled.

2.  I hate driving.  We have a car, and I even hold two licenses (one for New York and one for New South Wales), but I can guarantee that I will not sit in the driver’s seat unless it is a medical emergency.  Usually I walk where I need to get, and if that is not feasible, I take public transportation. 

3.  I was a math major in college/university.  I must seem a little ditzy, because if the subject comes up, people usually are surprised by this. 

4.  I look forward to going to the dentist.  I don’t enjoy having cavities filled, but I get very excited for my six-month cleanings.  When I was a kid, I adored my pediatric dentist Dr. D’Aquila (who had an office subscription to MAD Magazine), and I even wanted to be a dentist.  Later, though, I realized that I am grossed out by a lot of things, so that profession did not turn out to be my calling after all.

5.  I have a long scar on my left hand from a tragic Big Wheel incident.  I was four, and that and the resulting trip to the emergency room for stitches are my earliest clear memories.  This did not dampen my love of the Big Wheel though, and we were together for a couple more years.

6.  I love seafood and have a couple of pieces of chicken or turkey each month, but I haven’t eaten other meat in almost 20 years.  (It really frustrated my father to have a kid who would refuse hamburgers and hot dogs.)  Probably 90% of what I cook at home is vegetarian, although not necessarily super-healthy.

7.  With the exception of my signature, I only write in print, never in script.   And all of my Rs are upper-case.  I don’t know why or how that started.

8.  My satin baby blanket is my most prized possession.  Grandma W gave it to me the day I was born, and it is still on my bed and in great condition.  I have it dry cleaned when it needs to be, but R is still horrified by it.

I see from other blogs that this meme has really made its way around, so I won’t tag anyone myself.   If there are eight things you are dying to share with everyone, though, please do, and then let me know so I can read them!

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