Saturday, October 30, 2010

Better Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

Look, I love the It is a gift to all aspiring bakers. That is, unless you are looking for the perfect pumpkin chocolate chip cookie recipe... I've made joyofbaking's recipe a couple of times and it is just okay. But, come on, when you have two star ingredients like pumpkin and chocolate,
your cookie should come out fantastic.

So, for this season of pumpkin baked deliciousness, I have committed myself to a new recipe. And believe me, it delivers.

Start with your dry ingredients... hello, holiday spices!
Next, cream your butter and sugar.
Add in your pumpkin, an egg, and vanilla.
Beat that. Then add in your dry ingredients.
Stir until just about incorporated.
Add your chocolate chips.
Then stir just until everything is incorporated.
Drop the cookies onto a parchment-lined baking sheet.
(I love how wonky they look.)

Bake for 15 minutes.
Remove to a cooling rack.
And, enjoy the (better) beginning to the pumpkin season!

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg, at room temperature
1 cup pumpkin
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup chocolate chips or dark chocolate cut into chunks*
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon (heaping)
1/2 tsp ginger (heaping)
1/4 tsp fresh ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp cloves

Preheat oven to 350, and line baking sheets with parchment. Sift dry ingredients into a medium bowl and set aside. Cream butter and sugar, at least 2 minutes. Beat in egg, pumpkin, and vanilla. Add dry ingredients to wet, mix until just combined.** Stir in chocolate chips. Drop by tablespoon onto cookie sheet. Bake until lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Remove to wire rack to cool.

*Be sure to use good chocolate chips, like Ghiradelli 60% cacao, or good dark chocolate
**I usually stir until almost incorporated, then incorporate everything when the chocolate is added, in an effort to avoid over stirring.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Pappa al Pomodoro

The fall is in full swing here in southern California: temperatures are dipping all the way down into the 60s. The 60s!
In other words... it is time for soup!

And, I must say, I started the soup season with a bang: this Pappa al Pomodoro from the Oliver is like comfort in a bowl. I literally had to hold myself back from eating all of it in one sitting.

Pappa al Pomodoro is a traditional tomato-bread soup from Tuscany. Instead of using cream to thicken it, you use day-old bread. This results in a lovely, thick consistency, which you want in the fall; but, you don't have to add cream, which is always a plus for everyday/non-fancy occasion soups.

As ever, the Oliver sticks with basic ingredients: tomatoes, basil, garlic, bread, and water, and makes it magical. The key to the magic this time is roasting some cherry tomatoes with basil and garlic beforehand, and then adding them to the soup.
This gives the soup such depth and really intensifies the tomato-basil flavor.

So, start by pricking some cherry tomatoes.
Then toss them with some basil, garlic, olive oil, salt, and pepper.
Roast them until the skins start popping, about 20 minutes.
In the meantime, get some more garlic sauteing in your Dutch oven, with the basil stems, and some olive oil. Who knew you could use basil stems?
Add in a can of whole plum tomatoes.
Then add some water, and bring that to a simmer.
Now, time for the thickener! I used a loaf of Pain Rustique from Trader Joe's, which I had let sit out for 2 days. Tear it into pieces. And, enjoy it.
Time to add the bread to the soup.
Also add in a bunch of basil. And add some salt and pepper, to taste.
Let that all yum up over low heat for about 10 minutes. And then...

Time for those roasted tomatoes!
Just look at how gorgeous this is. You know it is going to be good.

At this point, you just need to adjust the water level to your taste. You want it to be thick, but still silky. I added about 1/2 cup more. But, really just add a bit and taste, until you are satisfied.
Remove it from the heat. Ladle it into your bowl and add some Parmesan cheese and some fresh basil.

Don't you just adore the fall?

Pappa al Pomodoro (from Jamie's Italy)
1 lb ripe cherry tomatoes
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely sliced
a large bunch of fresh basil, leaves picked, stems finely chopped
the best extra virgin olive oil you can find
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 28 ounce can of plum tomatoes
about 1 lb or 2 large handfuls of stale good-quality bread

Prick the cherry tomatoes and toss them on a baking sheet with one sliced clove of garlic and a quarter of the basil leaves. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook them in the oven at 350 for about 20 minutes, until the tomatoes are bursting out of their skins.

Heat a glug of olive oil in a Dutch oven and add the remaining garlic and basil stems. Stir around and gently fry for a minute, until softened. Add your canned tomatoes, then fill the can with water and add that. Break up the tomatoes with a spoon, bring to a boil, and simmer for 15 minutes.

Tear the bread up into thumb-sized pieces and add them to the pan. Mix well and season to taste. Tear in the basil leaves and let the soup sit on a low heat for 10 minutes. Add the roasted tomatoes, basil, garlic, and juices into the pan.

Give the soup a good stir. You're looking to achieve a thick, silky, porridgy texture, so feel free to adjust it with a little water. Then remove it from the heat and add 6 or 7 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Divide between bowls and served with a little extra basil.

Serves 4

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Crispy Fennel Salad

I'm going to say it. I think fennel is nifty. Just look at it:
The bulb and fronds (those green, whispy things on top which you can use like an herb) taste like licorice, it is crunchy, and it is elegant. See, what did I tell you: fennel is nifty.

Here's a shockingly quick way, courtesy of The Oliver (of course), to use fennel that really shows it off: crispy fennel salad. The licorice flavors come through with all their elegance, without overpowering you. And, with the heightening from the lemon and olive oil, the fennel just sings.

Did I mention it was quick and easy? Start by peeling the fennel bulb with a vegetable peeler, and be sure to reserve the fronds.
Dunk the shaved fennel into a bowl of ice water for 10 minutes. This is how the fennel gets 'crisp'.
Drain and dry the fennel.
Meanwhile, get out some sun dried tomatoes.
Chop them up.
Throw the fennel, sun dried tomatoes, and fennel fronds in a bowl. Toss with lemon juice, good olive oil, salt, and pepper.
Stir that together. And that's it!
While I served it over cod my father fished out of the waters in Alaska,
you could also serve it over poultry, pork, or greens, or along with avocado and segments of citrus (but, maybe omitting the sun dried tomatoes).

Just nifty!

Crispy Fennel Salad (from The Oliver's Cook with Jamie)
2 fennel bulbs, fronds reserved
a small bunch of herbs, like marjoram or oregano*
juice of 1 lemon
extra virgin olice oil
8 sun-dried tomatoes (if in oil, drain and finely chop)
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

Using a speed peeler or a mandolin slicer, slice the fennel bulbs lengthways very, very finely and put in a bowl of iced water for 10 minutes or so until the slices go crispy.

Drain and dry the fennel and mix it in a bowl with the fennel fronds. Add the herbs. Dress the fennel salad with the lemon juice, some extra virgin olive oil, the sun-dried tomatoes, and salt and pepper to taste.

Serves 4

*Parsley or basil should work just as well.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Chocolate Layer Cake with Raspberry Filling and Ganache Frosting

It turns out frosting a cake takes some skills. Skills I apparently do not have.
It also turns out if you are a disaster of a froster, chocolate-raspberry rapture makes up for a multitude of sins.
But, since I am confessing, I might as well also admit that this cake isn't even remotely level. After I took the cake layers out of their pans, I felt like I had started to play that game called 'which one of these things...
Is not like the others?'
Yep, when I placed/shoved all three pans into my not-meant-to-hold-3-cake-pans oven, one accidentally went up on the lip of my baking rack.

But, listen, even if you frost a crooked cake like a 4-year old, it will be okay as long as the cake is to die for. Which this one absolutely, positively was. The cake itself is moist, and the chocolate flavor is deep, nuanced, but not too sweet. And, oh the raspberry filling. It is so bright, and matches the chocolate perfectly. This cake is probably the best I have ever made.

So, here's to making poorly-frosted, crooked cakes, that can still turn out wonderful.

To make this cake, you start by chopping up some dark chocolate. Make sure it is good quality. I like to use around 70%.
In the meantime, brew some coffee. Combining coffee with the chocolate doesn't actually make things taste like coffee; instead, it amplifies the chocolate taste.
And, combine the chocolate with the coffee. Try not to drink it.
Now, sift together your dry ingredients: sugar, flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder.
In a separate bowl, beat three eggs until they are lemon colored and slightly thickened.
Add some oil, buttermilk, and vanilla to the eggs. Then add in the dry ingredients.
Mix until just combined.
Get the batter into three 9-inch cake pans. And, just fyi, it is completely acceptable to use a 9-inch spring-form pan if you don't have 3 regular cake pans. Good to know, right?
Bake for 45 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean, and your house smells like heaven.
Let those cook completely in the pan on a rack. Then, time to remove the layers. Mine came out just fine.
Well, they came out of the pan just fine. The crookedness, well, there is not fix for that.

Now, if you want, you can wrap these layers up in cling-wrap for a day before you assemble the cake. When you are ready to assemble, start with the raspberry filling. Whaz up some defrosted frozen raspberries in a food processor. Then, press those through a strainer.
This should remove the seeds, and leave you with a gorgeous raspberry liquid.
Bring the liquid to a boil, with some sugar and cornstarch. Remove from the heat, and let cool completely.
In addition to the lovely raspberry filling, you need to make a ganache. So, chop up some more chocolate. And, in a small sauce pan, whisk together heavy whipping cream (aka heavy cream), sugar, and light corn syrup. Bring that to a boil.
Remove from the heat and whisk in the chocolate. Then whisk in the butter.
At the end, you should have a gorgeous, shiny ganache. But, you should refrigerator it for about 30-40 minutes to get it to spreadable consistency.
Then, time to assemble! And, fair warning, if you think this will take 15 minutes, try more like 45. Will I ever learn to estimate these things correctly? Start with a cake layer.
Add some raspberry filling.
You are *supposed* to do it only within a 1/4 inch of the edge to prevent it from spilling over the edge when you put the other layers on top. As you can see, I did not pay attention to this direction.
Time for more raspberry filling.
Add the last cake layer.
Then frost. Or at least make an embarrassing attempt. Smoothing it over a few times can 'help'.
I garnished mine with some raspberries on the top.
It looks better from the aerial view.
Now you can chill it for up to 3 days before bringing it back up to room temperature to serve it. But, if you were able to resist this,
I would be worried. Why ever would you keep something this wonderful from yourself?

Chocolate Layer Cake with Raspberry Filling (adapted from epicurious and smittenkitchen)
For cake layers:
3 ounces fine-quality semi-sweet chocolate
1 1/2 cups hot brewed coffee
3 cups sugar
2 1/2 cups all purposed flour
1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch processed)
2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp baking powder
1 1/4 tsp salt
3 large eggs
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups well-shaken buttermilk
3/4 tsp vanilla

For ganache frosting:
8 ounces fine-quality semi-sweet chocolate
1/2 cup heavy cream (aka heavy whipping cream)
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 Tablespoon light corn syrup
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter

For raspberry filling:
20 ounces frozen raspberries, defrosted
1/2 cup sugar
2 Tablespoons cornstarch

Make cake layers:
Preheat oven to 300. Grease 3 9-inch cake pans* and line bottoms with parchment paper.

Finely chop chocolate and in a bowl combine with hot coffee. Let mixture stand, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth.

Into a large bowl sift together sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In another large bowl, with an electric mixer beat eggs until thickened lightly and lemon colored (about 3 minutes, with a good handmixer or stand-mixer). Slowly add oil, buttermilk, vanilla, and melted chocolate mixture to the eggs. Beat until well combined. Add sugar mixture and beat on medium speed until just combined. Divide batter between pans and bake in middle of oven until a test inserted in the center comes out clear, about 45 minutes.

Cool layers completely in pans on racks. Run a thin knife around edges of pans and invert layers onto racks. Carefully remove parchment. Cake layers may be made 1 day ahead and kept, wrapped well in plastic wrap at room temperature.**

Make frosting:
Finely chop chocolate. In a small sauce pan, bring cream, sugar, and corn syrup to a boil over moderately low heat, whisking until sugar is dissolved. Remove pan from heat and add chocolate, whisking until chocolate is melted. Cut butter into pieces and add to frosting, whisking until smooth.

Transfer frosting to a bowl and cool, stirring occasionally, until spreadable.***

Make raspberry filling:
Puree raspberries in a food processor. Press through a fine mesh strainer with the back of a spoon, removing seeds. Heat in a small sauce pan with sugar and cornstarch, until it boils, stirring occasionally.

Cool completely before spreading thinly over layers.

Assemble cake:
Spread a thin layer of raspberry filling between each layer, and spread the frosting over the top and sides. Cake keeps, covered and chilled, 3 days. Bring up to room temperature before serving.

*Both epicuious and smittenkitchen have you use 2 10-inch cake pans, which I don't have. But, as long as you adjust the baking time to 45 minutes, 3 9-inch cakes pans (or springform pans) work just fine.
**My cake layers were a little bit delicate. They never split in two, but I had to be careful when maneuvering them.
***I chilled my for 45 minutes, which was a tad too long. Try 30 minutes and check.