Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Disaccharide Drenched Drupes - Walnut Praline

Today, June 24th, is Praline Day. (The Southern pray-LEEN, not the French prah-lin-AY) So I set out to make walnut pralines with a particular salad in mind. They it occurred to me.... I should write about nuts... For all those who are as Nuts about Nuts as I am.... Or should I say, Daffy about Drupes? Maybe, Looney about Legumes .....?

Botanically speaking, not all nuts are created equal. Most of the "nuts" that we eat from our friendly neighborhood trees are in actually Drupes. A drupe being the single edible "seed" extracted from a "pit" (endocarp) that was surrounded by, possibly edible, flesh (mesocarp) that was protected by a skin (exocarp). Example the Seed of the apricot is edible, once you eat the fruit, crack open the pit and you will find an edible seed, with a taste similar to an almond. This is because Almonds are in the same "Stone Fruit" Family as Peaches, Apricots, Cherries and Prunes. Walnuts, Cashews, Pecans and Coconuts fall into this category as well. Though I do not recommend eating the green fruit of the walnut and you would be pretty hard pressed to gnaw through the fibrous fruit of the coconut. The illustrious Olive, Cacao and Coffee are also drupes as are a lot of "berries" in the bramble family... each Raspberry, Salmon Berry, and Blackberry is a cluster of druplets. <--Seriously, I am not makin this stuff up ;)

Then there are the legumes such as Peanuts which exhibit odd behavior. After pollination, the fruit at the end of the stalk actually bends over and buries the ripening fruit several inches under the ground to ripen. And finally, seeds, like the Brazil Nut, with several "seeds" inside a large Coconut looking fruit, and the Pine nut; both Stone pine and Pinyon.

While true nuts such as Hazelnuts, Macadamia, Chestnuts, Beech Nuts, Acorns and Birch Nuts consist simply of the hard shell with no surrounding fruit or outer skin. Or rather, the shell is the skin.

Be that as it may, for culinary uses they are all simply referred to as "nuts". After all the slogan "Sometimes you feel like a Drupe... Sometimes you don't!" just doesn't have quite the same catchy ring to it, does it?

Praline Walnuts

(Over Mediterranean Salad)

1/4 cup plus 2 TB Granulated Sugar
2 TB Light Brown Sugar
1/4 cup Buttermilk
3/8 tsp Baking Soda
1/8 tsp Cinnamon
Pinch of Mace
1 1/2 TB butter
1 Cup Toasted Walnut Halves or other favorite Drupe, Nut, Legume or Seed

If your walnuts are raw, toast them in a 350 degree oven for about 8 minutes
Line your counter with waxed paper.
In medium heavy saucepan, cook Sugars, Buttermilk, Cinnamon, Mace and Baking Soda over medium heat....

till the syrup reaches Firm Ball stage (243-250 degrees); stirring constantly to prevent scorching of the buttermilk.

When the mix has reached the proper temp, remove from heat, and mix the butter into the syrup. (This is important, the added fat will prevent premature crystallization of the sugar)

Add Walnuts and stir to coat.

Pour Walnuts onto Wax Paper Lined counter and separate the nuts as quickly as possible.

Let cool completely before attempting to eat.... Trust me, they are extremely hot!!

What to do with Praline Walnuts, besides sitting in a corner and eating them all, one by one?

I like to make, what I call, Mediterranean Salad. I delicious combination of peppery Arugula, Crispy Pear, Pungent Blue Cheese, and Crunchy Praline Walnuts all drizzled with a Lemon-Honey Vinaigrette.

Lemon Honey Vinaigrette is surprisingly simple
2 TB Lemon Juice
1/4 tsp Kosher Salt
2 tsp orange Blossom Honey
1/3 cup Kalamata Olive oil or Walnut oil

You are going to need a jar or bottle that you can shake...
Place the salt in the jar/bottle, then the lemon juice and swirl them around so the salt dissolves before placing the remaining ingredients in the jar/bottle.

Shake the dickens out of it.


Composing the salad
Take a handful of arugula and place it in a bowl.
Top with slices of d'Anjou or Comice pear (ususally about 1/2 pear per person)
Crumble blue cheese over the top, and dot with praline walnuts.
Drizzle with Lemon-Honey Vinaigrette
You can certainly hit it with a little ground pepper too, if you like....



Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Macaroni and Cheese Blues - Conchiglia alla Formaggio Azzuro

A funny thing happened on the way to my Google Reader. My friend Joe over at EspressoJoe SanSanity had made his infinitely delicious Smoked Gouda Macaroni and Cheese. Which, of course, set my stomach into overdrive and triggering my OCD. OK, obsession is 9/10ths aggravation. I say this because it never seems to fail. When I REALLY REALLY REALLY need to find something, (did I mention "really") suddenly it is no longer available.

I have never had a problem finding cheese in this town. OK, aside from the obscure ones like Bitto, mini rounds of Humboldt Fog and Smoked Scamorza. But your standard Dutch cheeses are usually not a problem... being Gouda, Smoked Gouda and Edam. I mean, heck, Trader Joe's alone carries 5 different Goudas; 2 of which are made with goat milk. But since Murphy's Law seems to govern my life, (more frequently than not) it came to pass that, simply because I wanted to make Smoked Gouda Mac & Cheese, there was not a single chunk of Smoked Gouda in San Diego County. OYE!!

Needless to say, I became annoyed.. But after 5 grocery stores, including Whole Foods (who was "out") and Trader Joe's, it became apparent that I was to be denied smokey Gouda-ness. Sadly, this snafu did not diminish my, now unbearable, need for Mac and Cheese. So I reached for my favorite "goto" cheese.... Gorgonzola. I would have preferred to use a Gorgonzola Dolce (which is younger and creamier) but I was NOT going to any more grocery stores and was willing to make sacrifices at this point just to have exquisite cheese laden panko crusty goodness for dinner.

Thus was born, out of desperation...

Bleu Mac and Cheese or Conchiglia alla Formaggio Azzuro

A warning, my aged Gorgonzola was really weak this time... so I used 10 oz instead of 8.... But I have had young Gorgonzola (Dolce) that is stronger than some of the aged stuff, so start with 8 oz and work your way up if necessary. Tasting is important. Stilton is pretty consistent, so your fairly safe with 8 oz of this famed English Blue Cheese. If you would like to mellow the flavor out a little replace 2 oz of the Blue Cheese with 2 oz of Danish Fontina (the stuff in the red wax).

16 oz (448 g) Elbow Macaroni or Medium Shells (I prefer Shells)
6 TB unsalted butter
1 Shallots minced fine
1 Garlic clove, minced
5 TB AP Flour
2 cup (16 oz) (480 ml) Whole Milk
3/4 cup (12 oz) (180 ml) Half and Half
1/2 cup (4 oz) (120 ml) Heavy Cream
3/4 tsp Kosher Salt
1/2 tsp ground White Pepper
8-10 oz (224 g - 280 g) Gorgonzola, 8-10 oz Gorgonzola Dolce or 8 oz Stilton, Crumbled
1 oz (28 g) grated Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/2 cup (1 oz) (28 g) Panko

Preheat oven to 350°.

Drop Elbow or Conchiglia (shells) into salted boiling water; cooking for 3 minutes less than package directions;

Meanwhile in a large saucepan (larger than the one I used) over medium heat, melt 6 TB butter.
When foam subsides, add shallots and garlic; sautéing for about 1 minute.

Add flour and stir to coat; Continue cooking for 1 – 2 minutes, stirring constantly, until onion roux is light blonde.

Gradually add Milk, Half & Half, Heavy Cream, Salt, and Pepper, whisking constantly until blended and smooth.

Bring to a boil, continuing to whisk constantly; then cook until white sauce becomes thick.

Begin adding the cheeses a little at a time and stir until melted and smooth before next addition.

Drain your pasta well.. and return to the pot.

Pour Gorgonzola sauce over the Conchiglia and toss to coat well.

Spoon mixture into a 2 1/2 quart baking dish (this actually works best) or

if your like me and don't want to be eating it until the next Bleu Moon ;)
Utilize 6 CorningWare Petite dishes rubbed with olive oil or butter.

Sprinkle with Grana Padano,

Then sprinkle with Panko.

Bake at 350° for 15 minutes or until bubbly;

if the top is not browned to your liking, place under the broiler for 3 minutes or so.


Monday, June 22, 2009

Pecan Sablé's Little Sister - Pecan Sandie

Who or what is Sablé? Basically, the French version of Shortbread, containing egg yolks to enrich the dough... Man, those French know how to do it up right! ahem.... Anyway, the Pecan Sandie is simply a slightly rustic variation on the same theme. The main differences, from what I have been able to gather, is that the Pecans are not as finely ground for the Sandies and they all seem to contain brown sugar where as the Sablés rely solely on confectioners'.

Either way, Pecans are delicious and so are shortbread cookies... So putting the two together is positively brilliant; and tomorrow (June 23rd) is National Pecan Sandie Day. Yet again, brilliant. So... Here we go...!! From about 1/2 way down the 3 ft stack of recipes in my bedroom closet.... with a few modifications... (Cause I can't help myself - They are they optional ingredients)

Pecan Sandies

With Orange and Demerara Sugar

1/2 cup (4 oz) (113 g) Unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup (1.25 oz) (31g) Confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1/3 cup (2.25 oz) (66 g) Light brown sugar, packed
1 large Egg yolk (save the white if you want to do an egg wash)
1 tsp Vanilla Extract or the Caviar of 1/2 Vanilla Bean
optional Pinch of Cinnamon
optional 1/2 tsp Orange Oil or the zest of 1/2 Orange
1 1/2 cups (7 oz) (188 g) AP Flour
1/4 tsp Fleur de Sel
1 1/2 cups (6 oz) (170g) Toasted Pecans; coarse ground
optional Egg White Wash
optional Demerara Sugar

Cream Butter, Confectioners' and Brown Sugar until fluffy.

Beat in the Egg Yolk, Vanilla, Cinnamon and Orange oil, mixing until well combined.

Add Fleur de Sel, Pecans and AP Flour, stirring to incorporate.

Divide dough in half,

placing the first half of the dough on a sheet of wax paper and form a log.

Fold wax paper over and place a sheet pan near the base of the log.

Hold the bottom piece of the was paper and press down and forward with the edge of the sheet pan,

this will force the dough into an even log of about 1 1/2 - 2 inches in diameter.

Roll the log in the wax paper and chill for at least 2 hours (Repeat the process with the second half of the dough using a new piece for wax paper)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Remove a dough log from the refrigerator and slice 1/4-1/3 inch thick.

Place on a parchment lined baking sheet (you can place them pretty close as they do not spread very much)

Brush the top with egg white wash and sprinkle with Demerara Sugar.

Bake 15 minutes.

After removing from the oven, leave the Sandies on the baking sheet for about 5 minutes before moving to a rack to cool completely.

Once cooled, brew some Espresso and consume with zeal!!


Sunday, June 21, 2009

Pampering Your Poultry - Coddled Eggs

I love eggs, always have and probably always will. Poached, Fried, Baked (oeufs Cocotte), Boiled and my most favorite of all, Coddled. The term "coddling" doesn't seem to have really caught on the U.S. Thus Coddled eggs are often simply, but incorrectly, referred to as "Poached" even though poaching technically requires contact with the cooking liquid or oil.

The "inserts" for sauce pans;

instruct cracking an egg into the indentations and setting the insert in a saucepan of simmering water. They are always labeled as egg poachers, but this is really a coddler. The idea is to "pamper" or literally "coddle" the egg by cooking it gently like you would when using a Bain Marie (Double Boiler) over, or setting in, barely simmering water for about 8 minutes. This leaves the egg at about 160 degrees, however the white stays tender due to the gentle cooking and the yolk remains runny, although I tend to leave mine in for an extra minute so the yolk JUST begins to gel.

Even without a Poacher/Coddler, you can still make great coddled eggs at home with a few ramekins and a saute pan.

Begin heating a saute pan with about 1 inch of water in the bottom.

Butter about 4 - 6 ramekins, depending on how big your saute pan is.

Crack an egg into each one, sprinkling with salt and pepper as desired.

Then I always add a little Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Once the water reaches about 185 degrees, slip the ramekins in the hot water, and cover.

Simmer for 7-9 minutes depending on how cooked you like your yolk.

Remove ramekins from hot water and either serve as is on a plate with a little pat of butter (I used a touch of White Truffle butter from my freezer).

Or run a butter knife around the edge and turn the egg out onto a plate.

As I stated earlier, when I make coddled eggs, I tend to cook them just a touch longer so the yolk barely gels,

instead of leaving it runny. Delisioso!!!


Saturday, June 20, 2009

Heavenly Lemon Cloud - Meyer Lemon Filled White Cake

White Cake - The mere mention of it causes some cake lovers’ blood to run cold with dread. Plagued with memories of this usually dry and crumbly, though very "white", vehicle of frosting transportation. Most seek solace in "yellow" butter cake or even cross over to the “dark side”, reaching for that ever dense & moist, rich deep devils food.

Thus was the conundrum I faced this week. I had promised that I was going to bake a cake for Patricia, one of my coworkers. So in order to keep it a secret, I had asked Diana to perform a little reconnaissance to find out, secretly, what Pat's favorite cake was. When I received the news that a lemon filled white cake was her favorite I was a aghast. I had never made a white cake before. Although my resistance to white cake had nothing to do with it's dryness..... Every "White cake" recipe I had seen always used shortening, so I had completely written them off... I understand why shortening was used, as it does not brown the way butter does, but I do not cook or bake with Shortening...

This is a personal health choice that has become somewhat of a soap box for me. Shortening is an unnatural and synthetic product not only by way of it's manufacturing, but it is foreign to the body as well. I am not going to go into too many details, but I learned this long ago, because my mother was a member of the Women's Home Extension. (back in my "knee-high to a grasshopper" days) I remember when she gave the class on synthetically hydrogenated oils and, consequently, switched from Crisco/Shortening/Margarine/Oleo back to butter for all her baking needs. The short story is this.

Unsaturated fats (which your digestive system CAN identify and break down) are bombarded with hydrogen, in the presence of nickel, until they become partially saturated, making them more solid at room temperature. The problem is, these fats do not occur in nature, your digestive system cannot recognize the "synthetic" fat and sends it to the liver just as it would for a short chained fatty acid. The liver is then forced to store it as a polymer (for all intensive purposes - a plastic) because it is incapable of breaking it down as well. Oh sure, shortenings are "Trans-Fat Free" now, which is great, but the underlying evil of what shortening is, still remains.

The point is, this is why I had never make a white cake. This is also why BakeSpace is the most awesome place on the net. You see, I had begun to panic, and had actually bought some Crisco, resigning myself to the fact that, to make her birthday cake, I was going to have to use it.

Then I was suddenly struck by an idea. I know that part of the reason for the cakes white-ness (and dryness) is the lack of egg yolks, so does butter really make THAT much of a difference? Do I REALLY need to use shortening? Cow butter is dyed with annatto seed, because it is a weird grayish ivory color. Goat butter, on the other hand, is naturally snowy white.

Was it simply a matter of using "white" ingredients to make a white cake? So I tracked down some goat butter at Whole Foods just in case and put a call out on BakeSpace, asking these questions.

Sure as the sun rises in the East, one of my BakeSpace buddies (beeps) came to the rescue. Spryte, from Spryte's Place, pointed me to the perfect recipe, which included butter instead of shortening. Not only that, but it promised to be moist with a tender crumb. Awesome! So I need to shout out to another fellow BakeSpacer.... Piday, your white cake recipe was awesome!!!

I only made 2 changes to the cake, one out of paranoia and one out of necessity. I did use the Goat butter, instead of Cow butter, and I used Lemon oil instead of lemon zest (cause I used all my lemons making the Honeyed Lemon Pine Nut Tart the other night) So I am going to post the recipe, on here, as I made it. Piday's original white cake recipe (Sorry, as of 2013, this link is broken). I did make a single batch 2 layer cake, and then decided I needed 1 more layer so I made another 1/2 batch of the recipe.

A word of caution with Goat butter - it melts at a slightly lower temperature than cow butter. This is due to it's larger percentage of short/medium chained fatty acids. (Capric, Caprylic and Caproic). Cow butter fats (Butyric, Myristic) have a higher melting point. So in order for it to "cream" with the sugar properly, it must be slightly colder that room temperature. (I didn't figure this out until I was making the third layer)

White Cake

2 1/4 cups (7.9 oz) (225g) Cake Flour
1 TB Baking Powder
1/2 tsp Kosher Salt
1 cup (8 oz) (240 ml) Whole Milk
1/4 cup (2 oz) (60 ml) Buttermilk
4 large Egg Whites
1 1/2 cups (10 oz) (285g) Granulated Sugar
10 TB (5 oz) (142 g) Unsalted Goat Butter, slightly colder than room temp
1/4 tsp Lemon oil
1 TB Simple Syrup
2 tsp Canton (Ginger cognac)

1 cup (8oz) Meyer Lemon Curd or Plain Lemon Curd
1 recipe 7 Minute Frosting
Zest Lemon mixed with 2-3 TB Granulated sugar for Decor
1 Lemon; Sliced

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Grease two 9 x 2 inch round cake pans and line the bottom of each pan with a round of parchment, then rub the parchment with butter as well. Do not grease the sides of the pan. (OK, I have to admit, that I DID use the Crisco for this, just because shortening doesn't brown like butter, due to lack of protein. So yes, I am a hypocrite)

Sift the Cake Flour, Baking Powder and Salt together.

Whisk the milk and egg whites together in a medium bowl.

In the bowl of your stand mixer (with the paddle attachment) or with a hand mixer and a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar together at medium speed for a 3 minutes, until they are very light and slightly fluffy. (but not too fluffy)

Mix in the extract/oil, then add one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed.

Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated.

Add the remaining milk/egg white mixture beating until the batter is homogeneous, then add the last of the dry ingredients and continue beating the batter for 2 more minutes to ensure all ingredients are thoroughly mixed.

Divide the batter between the two pans; lift and drop the pans to force any bubbles to the top then smooth the tops with a spatula

Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the cakes spring back when lightly touched; toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unfold them and peel off the parchment.

Invert and cool to room temperature, right side up and gently brush away any crumbs.

I then made a 1/2 batch so I would have three layers (my oven is not big enough to fit 3 cake pans)

Mix Canton and Simple syrup, brushing the cakes while still slightly warm, on the top sides only.

Begin making 7 minute frosting.

The cakes should be cooled by now, so arrange the first layer, fastening to the board or plate with a little dollop of frosting.

Pipe a boarder around edge of the cake, then fill with 1/2 cup Meyer Lemon Curd.

Place second layer, pipe a boarder and fill with remaining Meyer Lemon Curd.

Place the third layer and empty the pastry bag over the top of the cake (just cause, I didn't want to waste any frosting)

Cover cake with the remaining 7 minute frosting (Don't bother with a crumb coat, because 7 minute frosting cannot be refrigerated)

Combine the zest of 1 lemon with 2 TB of sugar and rub together to coat, them sprinkle over the top of the cake.

Slice a lemon, then cut slices in half and place decoratively around the base of the cake.