Friday, December 21, 2012


I decided that if the Mayans were right, and world was going to end today, that I would go ahead and make a batch of my grandmother's Almond Roca.  After all, no one should have to face an apocalypse without chocolate covered English toffee....

Am I right?


Friday, December 14, 2012

Wynken, Blynken and Nog - Cooked Honey Eggnog

I absolutely LOVE eggnog.  If there is anything at all that screams Christmas Cheer to me, it's Eggnog.  This was not always the case, but that was because I no idea that it was a spirit laced beverage until I was about 30.  (no laughing, please) ;)

When I was growing up, we always mixed the eggnog half and half with milk.  Granted, my parents were not exactly in the habit of slipping their children a short snort of bourbon, but that was the way they drank it as well.  My grandfather use to work for the Mayflower dairy, and that was the way my mom was raised as well.  So I never questioned this virgin version of the drink.

Well, lemme tell ya.  I much prefer the "Christmas Cheer" version these days.

One thing that has always bothered me about Eggnog is that the mega mart versions are full of all sorts of weird ingredients.  When I was a kid, there was a drive-thru local dairy called "Senn's".  Now being on a goat dairy you may be wondering WHY we would go to a cow dairy to purchase milk.  Well, back then (I was in 4th grade) we use to "dry up" the goats during the winter.  So we had to purchase cow milk during the winter months until the next kidding in the spring.  Once the kids were born, it was a mere 2 weeks before the milk was consumable again and we drank goat milk from March to November, at which point we would begin purchasing 3.8% or 4.6% milk from the dairy (Whole goat milk is higher in cream, so 2% cow milk tasted like water after drinking such rich milk all spring, summer and fall).  We were always excited to go through the drive-thru to get our Milk, Eggnog (in glass jars) and Ice Milk (I miss Ice Milk).  By the time I was an adult, the Senn's dairy drive-thru had closed... I think that it is a Goodyear Tire center now.  Thus, I was regulated to purchasing Eggnog in the store, and it was so weird tasting, I simply quit buying it.

Then I moved to San Diego where Alta Dena Dairy products fill the shelves.  One year, I noticed that they had an Eggnog made with Honey instead of High Fructose Corn Syrup or Sugar.  I tried it, I LOVED it, and I started purchasing my Eggnog again... This was still before I knew about the Bourbon.  Sadly, after about 2005, I was no longer able to find the Honey sweetened version in the store... By this time, I had discovered the "bourbon fortified" version of Eggnog.  I was totally hooked on it, so I had to start making it myself.

So what exactly IS Eggnog, when it doesn't come out of a store carton?  Personally, I believe that it started with the Dutch.  Call it a hunch, for I have no proof to back this up, but one of the more popular Dutch liqueurs is called Advocaat.  A delightful custard-like concoction of egg, cream, sugar and brandy, which is used to make Snowballs (Advocaat and lemonade).  That is all Eggnog is, though I usually make my Nog with Bourbon instead of Brandy.   It's nothing more than a thin custard that has been liberally laced with spices of Cinnamon and Clove, but mostly Nutmeg.  Unlike a custard though, the egg whites are beaten to stiff peaks and then folded into the mixture or used to decorate the top of the glass. 

Most Eggnog recipes are raw.  While *I* personally have no fear of egg born salmonella, since I know that the eggs that I buy come from the west coast (in fact they come from about 20 miles from here), I do not feel that have the right to foist my "devil may care" attitude upon any of my guests that may be partaking of said Holiday Cheer.  Thus, I cook my eggnog, or rather, I cook the custard part.  The only problem with this, is that the whites are still raw.  Since the meringue-ish topping is one of the best parts of a glass of Nog I save the raw egg whites for making divinity and opt for Pasteurized Egg Whites in the carton when I go to mix a drinks. (though I forgo this part when serving the virgin version to kids)

So there you have it, a honey based Eggnog that is safe for children and the elderly to drink.

Let's make some Cheer! 

Cooked Honey Eggnog

6 large Egg Yolk, save the egg whites for Angel Food Cake or Divinity
1/2 cup light Honey, such as Orange Blossom or Clover
1 TB Vanilla extract
Pinch of Kosher Salt
1/2 a Nutmeg, broken (plus more as a garnish)
1 Cinnamon Stick, broken
4 Clove buds
2 cups Whole Milk
a tiny pinch of Baking Soda
1 cup Heavy Cream

For serving "Virgin":
Eggnog base
Freshly grated Nutmeg

Or not:
4 oz Eggnog base
1 oz Bourbon per person when serving (I like mine a little stronger, so I use 1 1/2 oz per person)
Freshly grated Nutmeg
2 TB Egg Beaters 100% Egg Whites (or other Pasteurized egg whites in a carton) per serving
1 tsp Honey
More Nutmeg  :)

OK, Ready, Set.... Go!

The Egg Yolks, Honey, Vanilla and Salt need to be whisked very well in a stainless steel or glass bowl until they are thick, pale and slightly fluffy looking.

Meanwhile, in a separate saucepan, bring Milk, Nutmeg, Cinnamon and Clove to a simmer.

Add just a pinch of Baking Soda to the Milk...   (Honey is slightly acidic, when compared to sugar, so you need just a pinch to take the edge off the honey)

When the Yolks are super pale and fluffy, slowly add the simmering milk, 1/4 cup at a time, to the yolks, whisking constantly to temper them.

Once you have added about 1 cup of the Milk, you can add the tempered yolks to the remaining Milk in the sauce pan.

Continue cooking this custard mixture until it reaches 180F (82C) degrees.

Remove from the heat and strain (to remove the cinnamon stick, cloves and any errant egg yolk bits) through a fine mesh strainer.

Slowly stir in the heavy cream to help cool it down.

Pour into a glass container or two, depending on your bottle sizes.

Refrigerate until cold. Eggnog is suppose to be a cold drink.... Unlike a Tom and Jerry (But that is a post for around New Year)

Now, you have 2 options.  The virgin version, or the less than virgin version.  ;)
I really don't think I need to give directions for a virgin Eggnog, so let's move on to the version filled with Christmas Cheer.

This is by the glass.  If you decide to make a punch bowlful of Eggnog, simply calculate that your starting batter will make about 9 servings in total (depending the size of your punch cups).  So pour the cooked base from above, into a punch bowl, add 9-12 oz of Bourbon and stir... Add fresh grated Nutmeg and stir again.  Whip 18 TB of Pasteruized Egg Whites with 9 tsp of Honey until they form stiff peaks.  Fold the beaten egg whites and Eggnog together in a punch bowl.  Cover and chill for 1 hour in the refrigerator before serving.

OK, moving on to Holiday Cheer for 1.  :)

Place 1 oz of good Bourbon in a glass.

Add the Eggnog base and stir quickly with a fork.

Sprinkle with freshly grated nutmeg and stir again.

In a small bowl, combine pasteurized Egg White and Honey.

Whisk briskly until stiff peaks form. (since the honey is slightly acidic, it will stabilize your egg whites and form a nice fluffy Meringue)

Spoon the Honeyed Meringue into the glass.

You may stir again at this point, or not (it depends on how "airy" you want your drink)
Sprinkle with more freshly grated Nutmeg.

Now consume the Cheer.

Now if your eyes start a Wynken and a Blynken, and your head begins to Nod, then you may have had a little too much cheer.

Cin Cin!!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Caramel Sauce, Whiskey and Wild Wild Bread Pudding

It's the season!  November has ended, Thanksgiving is officially over now and, contrary to what retailers would have us believe, the Christmas season has begun.  I have noticed, as I get older, that I am becoming more and more adamant about the fact that "Christmas" does not start until December.  The entire concept of Black Friday can kiss my back side.  Oye!  I stay home and eat left-over Thanksgiving pie.  (I love Pie day!)  Then again, I have usually finished my Christmas shopping before Halloween.  Not always, but most of the time.  Which leaves me free to spend the early part of December baking a myriad of Shortbreads, Candies and other small bites of delicious holiday cheer.

However, before I get involved in making the 6 Pumpkin Rolls that I need to hand out this year, I wanted to share one of my favorite winter time desserts.  One, incidentally, that I very rarely make.  Bread Pudding.

The problem is that I come from a bread eating family.  A serious bread eating family.  Every one of us consumes bread at truly alarming rate.  My niece's favorite summertime BBQ treat is a hot dog without the hot dog, meaning just the bun with hot dog fixin's on it.  I know it's in the family genes, because that was my favorite sandwich when I was little as well.  Ketchup, Mustard and Mayonnaise spread on bread and consumed with relish (when available) Whether it's homemade bread crumbs over Cauliflower, chunks ripped off a loaf and dipped in olive oil with dinner, or the proverbial left-over turkey sandwich after Thanksgiving.  The bread just seems to disappear around here in no time at all.  Thus there is never EVER any day old bread to make a descent bread pudding. (sigh)

But, I finally remembered to buy an extra loaf of Sourdough and hide it from myself a few days ago.  On some level, I think it's pretty sad that I have to hide bread from myself due to my lack of self control.  But it is what it is.  Maybe my subconscious mind will register the reward of bread pudding and it will assist me in resisting the temptation in the future.

Yeah, No.  Not happening in this lifetime.

I will admit that I prefer to have booze in my bread puddings.  I think it has to do with bread pudding's similarity to Christmas puddings, which are usually soaked in brandy and ignited. Alcohol just seems like a natural addition.  Be it Scotch with Butterscotch sauce, Bourbon and Egg Nog Sauce Sauce, Rum and ButterRhum Sauce, Brandy and Hard Sauce or, as in this case, Whiskey and Whiskey Caramel Sauce....  It's ALL kinds of good.   After all, 'tis the season to spread some Holiday Cheer, Right?  ;)

Irish Bread Pudding with Whiskey Caramel Sauce

Irish Bread Pudding
2 oz (56g) Unsalted Butter, melted
10 oz (284g) Sourdough Bread
1/2 cup (72g) Currants (you can use Raisins if you like)
1/4 cup (59ml) Irish Whiskey
1 3/4 cup (414ml) Half and Half
1 cup (200g) plus 1 TB Granulated Sugar
1 1/2 tsp Vanilla
12 oz (355ml) Evaporated Milk
2 large Eggs
1 tsp Cinnamon

Whiskey Caramel Sauce
1 1/2 cups (300g) Granulated Sugar
2/3 cup (156ml) Water
4 oz (113g) Unsalted Butter, cut into chunks
1/4 cup (59ml) Irish Whiskey (I like Bushmills)
1/4 cup (59ml) Heavy Cream

Preheat the oven to 350F degrees.
Cut the bread into 1-inch thick slices and brush with the melted butter and place butter side up on a baking sheet.

Bake the bread for about 10 minutes, or until the edges begin to turn golden.

Cut the bread into 1/2 inch cubes and set aside.

In a small bowl, macerate the Currants in the Irish Whiskey, then cover and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine Half and Half with Sugar, Vanilla, Evaporated Milk and Eggs, whisking well to combine.

Add Bread cubes, tossing well to coat, then cover and allow to sit for 15 minutes.

Butter a 13x9-inch baking dish.

Stir the macerated Currants into the bread custard mixture.

Pour the resulting mixture into the prepared baking dish.

Combine the remaining 1 TB Sugar with the Cinnamon.

Gently sprinkle the Cinnamon Sugar mixture over the pudding.

 Bake for 35 minutes, or until slightly puffed in the center.

While the pudding is baking, make the Whiskey Caramel sauce.
Combine Sugar and Water in a medium saucepan set over medium flame.

Stir until the Sugar dissolves and the syrup comes to a boil.

Let the mixture boil until it begins to turn amber brown.

When the caramel has reached its amber color, stir in the butter with a whisk (it will bubble and steam)

Once the butter has been melted into the caramel (the fat will prevent crystallization) remove the caramel from the heat and add the Irish Whiskey and Heavy Cream. (the mixture will bubble and steam again)

Pour into a heat proof pitcher and allow the caramel to cool. (I like to use empty honey bears for my cooled caramel sauces.... easier application)
Once the pudding has finished baking, and has cooled slightly, cut 3-inch square pieces and place in a bowl and drizzle liberally with Whiskey Caramel.

Add a dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream, if desired.


Thursday, November 29, 2012

Coffee Talk - Better Coffee Through Chemistry; Chemex


Lets face it, it's more of an Icon than a coffee pot.  It's part of the permanent collections of museums such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Smithsonian, the Philadelphia Museum and the Corning Museum.  Mary Tyler Moore used one on her show (the Mary Tyler Moore Show) and Mia Farrow used one in Rosemary's Baby.  Ever the vehicle for "Brand Placement", even James Bond likes his morning coffee brewed in one (From Russia, with Love, 1963).  And you can't possibly have missed the one sitting on the counter in Monica's apartment on Friends.

(Photo Courtesy of Austin Baker; Friends episode circa 1998)

Invented in 1941 and patented in 1943, the Chemex was the brain child of Chemist Peter Schlumbohm. He combined a modified laboratory funnel with an erlenmeyer flask to create this ingenious 1 piece brewer that has become a classic in Mid-century Modern design.  Originally hand blown into a mold by skilled Corning workers in NY, these Boro-Silicate glass (Pyrex) coffee receptacles' are still being produced today.  Sadly, most of the ones available on the market now, are machine molded in Taiwan, though human "mold blown" ones are still available for a much higher price.

The timing for the premier of this modern marvel could not have been more perfect.  Most metal fabrication had shifted to armament production as America's forced entry into WWII loomed ever closer.  This all glass brewer did not stress wartime resources and thus was a big hit.  On a side note, most of the vacuum pot makers, such as Cory, switched to a ground glass seal design to relieve the need for a rubber gasket during wartime.

Though a Chemex, for all intensive purposes, is nothing more than a manual drip brewer, there are a few differences.  Chemex uses a proprietary filter paper that is about 25% thicker than your standard auto-drip filters.  Originally this filter paper came flat packed and needed to be folded into quarters.  Luckily, they come pre-folded now.  This is a godsend to persons like myself who are incapable of even the simplest of tasks in a non-caffienated state.

This special filter paper performs 2 important functions. First and foremost, it slows the brewing time.  This gives the water more time to mingle with the grounds, allowing them to "bloom" properly, thus improving extraction. This is where I bash the Keurig and Nespresso, because this is true of ANY proper coffee brewing method.  It takes TIME.  I admit the pod brewers are convenient, but they brew so incredibly fast that there is no time for the full flavor of the coffee to be extracted.  You can rush a cup of coffee, but you can't rush a great cup of coffee..... I'm just sayin'.

The second purpose of these thicker filters is to capture the less desirable volatile oils as well as the fine sediments that can make your coffee bitter and muddy.  This leaves you with the richest and smoothest cup of "Joe" you ever sipped.  It's like liquid jazz in your cup.  Seriously, I kid you not.
I have heard complaints from "purists" that you can taste the paper.  That may be, though I don't so much notice it myself.  As a result, several companies have come out with stainless steel micro filter cones.  Before anyone spends $100.00 on a stainless steel micro filter for your Chemex, it should be noted that those filters will only trap the fine particles, so the "undesirable compounds" from the grounds will still make it into your coffee... It should also be noted that if one wets the filter with hot water first, before adding the coffee, it tends to lessen the "paper flavor".

Chemex is one of the most "hands on" ways to brew your coffee, even more so than a French Press, which is really more of an infusion than a brew.  With Chemex, it's all in the ritual of P and P (Prep and Pour), that is Preparing your Chemex for infusion and the Pouring of the water.

First, THIS is my Chemex. 

According to the Patent number stamped on the bottom (2,411,310), it was manufactured in 1946 by Pyrex in Corning, NY.  The way I understand it, the patent number changed in 1947 to 2,414,901.

Because of it's age, I know that it was mold blown; meaning that it is borosilicate glass that was blown into a mold (as opposed to the mechanical mold pressed ones made today).  I bought it used, obviously, since it is 23 years older than I am.  It seems to have been much loved by the previous owner(s).  It was brewed hard and put away wet, as it were.  The finish on the wooden collar is almost completely worn away and there appears to be some overheating scars as well (where the wood has blackened) no doubt from being kept warm on the stove burner (yikes!).  I usually keep my resulting coffee warm in a thermal carafe, for it is true that the Chemex will cool fairly quickly after brewing.  But this is also true of the French Press and Vacuum, so I am use to using thermal storage devices for unconsumed coffee.

Eventually, I plan on replacing the collar, bead and tie; but it's not really a high priority and would take away from it's vintage "aged" look.  The glass is in perfect working order and the collar is still secure so there is really nothing wrong with it at all.  A perfectly serviceable piece of vintage coffee brewing equipment to make 40 oz (that's eight 5oz cups) of rich, dark and sultry elixir.

OK, Lab Glass?  Check!

Chemex filters can be ordered online, but the cost of shipping doubles the price.  I found that Cost Plus/World Market carries the filters (prefolded and unbleached) in boxes of 100 for $7.59.   They also carry the newer mold pressed version of the Chemex, made in Taiwan.  (I love World Market)

Filters? Check!

OK, start heating a kettle with the appropriate amount of water. (in my case, 40oz)

Grab  filter and separate 3 layers from the 4th layer to form a cone.

Insert the "cone" into the top of the Chemex infuser with the 3 layers towards the pouring channel. (This will prevent the filter from blocking the pouring channel, which acts as an air vent during the extraction process)

OK, now is the time to add coffee...  The directions usually state 1 rounded Tablespoon per 5 oz cup...

Personally, with this particular brewing method, I think it needs to be toned down a little to a level tablespoon per cup.  So I am using 8 Tablespoons of Peet's Major Dickinson's Blend that has been ground for an auto drip machine. (Basically, "standard" grind)

"Preparation" is complete.....

By now, your water should be pretty close to a boil.  When it does boil, remove from the heat and allow the water to set for a minute. (this will bring it down to about 205F degrees)

Now it's all about the "Pour".

Drizzle just enough water from the kettle to moisten the grounds.  Then stop. (This allows the grounds to absorb some of the water and bloom)

After 20-30 seconds, you may pour in a little more water, just until the grounds look saturated. (They may even begin to bubble up from underneath... This is a good thing)

Now, slowly continue pouring the water over the grounds, keeping them wet, leaving at least 1 inch of space below the top of the carafe. (it should take you about 4 minutes to pour 40 oz of water through the grounds

The ground should be saturated at all times throughout the process.  The key to a great "POUR" is to ensure the grounds never have a chance to get "dry".

Once the water has drained through the filter, you will notice that the remaining grounds look NOTHING like they would if you used an auto-drip machine.  They have almost become a gelatinous mass due to this "blooming" and infusing method of brewing coffee.

Take the points of each of the corners and lift to remove the spent grounds and the filter. (Dispose of them in the trash or in your compost bucket)

There you go.  Coffee via chemistry.

Now pour yourself a cup, move the rest to a thermal carafe, and kick back while listening to some Jazz... The perfect accompaniment to a perfect cup of coffee.

Cin Cin!!