Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Browned. Butter. Pizzzzookie (Need I Say More?)

Browned Butter Chocolate Pecan Pizzookie
Are you acquainted with The Pizzookie? Or are you giving me/your monitor a funny look right now? You're in good company if you are. When I offered P a pizzookie, his initial response was a raised eyebrow and "what is that? sounds dirty..." Well one bite was all it took to make him a believer (plus it's hard to maintain a smirk when your mouth is full of cookie dough ^_^).

Messy Bite
I think of pizzookies as cookies on steroids. You simply start with almost any cookie dough, press it into some oven-safe dishes, bake just long enough to set the edges, then hit 'em with the best vanilla ice cream ya got. It sounds simple enough, but when you experience your first mouthful of warm n' gooey meets cool n' creamy, it's like arriving in a brave new (cookie) world. The take-home message is: If you like cookies, ice cream and all that's good on this green earth, you need some pizookie in your life. XD

Browned is Better 8)
And while we're aiming for the ultimate cookie experience, let's talk butter. No ordinary "room temperature" butter will do for the true cookie connoisseur. What we want, need is warm, aromatic browned butter. Despite being a self-proclaimed "foodie" for years, I'd somehow missed this amazing ingredient! Never imagining that a few minutes of stove time could give my cookies such complex, nutty flavor. Trust you me, I'll be playing with this butter in all sorts of sweet and salty dishes going forward. With gratitude for inspiring me to discover a new ingredient, I'm sending these pizzookies over to Elissa of 17 and Baking, our lovely host, for the browned butter edition of Sugar High Fridays.

Ready for a Close-up
Browned Butter Chocolate Chunk Pecan Pizzookie [Printable Recipe]
Adapted from the amazing blog The Little Red House
Makes 6 to 8 pizzookies or about 24 regular cookies

XIAOLU'S NOTES: Not that it's rocket science =D, but it never hurts to have some visual guidelines when you're cooking with precious buttah in a new way. Elise over at Simply Recipes has a nifty tutorial for browning butter with lotsa purdy photos.

1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup brown sugar [or white sugar plus 1 tsp molasses]
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 8 slices
1 large egg, room temperature
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup chocolate chips or 4.5 ounce bar, chopped
1/3 cup pecans, lightly toasted and roughly chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Mix flour, baking soda, and salt together in a medium bowl and set aside.

Heat a pan on medium heat. Add butter slices and melt in pan. Stir continuously. Butter will foam up. After foam subsides, small brown flecks will start to appear in bottom of pan. Continue stirring, until butter has reached a nice brown color, and nutty aroma. Remove from heat at this point. Don't heat it any more or it may burn.

Add browned butter and sugar to your stand mixer bowl. Mix well. Add in egg and vanilla, and mix them in thoroughly. Slowly stir in the flour mixture. Finally, add and evenly distribute the chocolate chips by mixing.

Scoop dough into individual ramekins. Sprinkle some pecans on top (they get toasty in the oven!). Bake for 8-10 minutes. Your pizzookies are ready when the edges are cooked, but the center is still gooey. Top with vanilla ice cream and gobble it up!

If you want to make these as normal cookies, just roll them into 1" balls and bake about 10-13 minutes until the edges are just set.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Farewell To Summer (Tomato Panzanella Salad)

Tomato Bread Ingredients for Panzanella Salad

With Labor Day just around the corner and my first classes in 3 years (!!!) starting in a week, I could no longer keep the wool over my eyes. Summer was slipping away, and fall would come a knockin' at any moment. Ever the foodie, my first thought was to gorge on as much abundant summer produce as I could get my hands on before it's all swept off with the fallen leaves.

Not that I don't love pumpkins and sweet potatoes. Citrus fruit and apple pies. Hearty soups and creamy casseroles. And believe it or not, I even enjoy the taste of the stalwart cabbage once in a while. But none of that compares to biting into a ripe and flavorful summer tomato. So I made it a point to enjoy a lot of tomato salads. Simply sliced, sometimes with a sprinkling of fresh mint and salty feta. Other times with only a spoonful of sugar the way my mom used to serve it. Delicious either way.

Panzanella (Bread Salad)

Then for the times I craved something with more substance, I found this delightful panzanella salad. Toasted chunks of bread absorb every bit of delicious juice released by the tomatoes. A dollop of creamy ricotta adds just the right amount of richness. Fast, fresh, and flavorful -- this is precisely the type of summer meal I'll miss when the weather turns. But I won't get too down. After all, there'll be plenty of fall bounty to keep me occupied for months yet!

Tomato Panzanella with Ricotta [Printable Recipe]
Slightly adapted from Everyday Food Volume 74
Serves 4

1/2 pound day-old crusty bread, cut or torn into 1 inch pieces
2 pounds ripe tomatoes, cut into 1 inch pieces
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
3 Tbsp red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
Course salt and ground pepper
1 cup fresh basil leaves, torn if large
15 ounces ricotta cheese (or fresh mozzarella if preferred)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. On a rimmed baking sheet, spread bread in a single layer and bake until dry and golden brown, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine tomatoes, onion, vinegar, and oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add toasted bread and basil, toss to combine. Let sit 20 - 30 minutes to allow bread to soak up liquid. Top with dollops of ricotta and finish with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

White Chocolate Sour Cherry Scones

White Chocolate

When my lovely blogger friend, Anh of A Food Lover's Journey announced that she and Cherrie from Sweet Cherrie Pie were co-hosting the International Incident Scones Party blogger event this month, it really got me to thinkin'. Despite prior successes, scones are just not something I usually crave. They're neither rich like brownies, for example, nor pretty like cupcakes and tarts. Scones also have an (undeserved) bad rep from the under-flavored/over-baked versions often found at coffee chains. I'm halfway convinced those are sold only to dry out our mouths so we'll crave more coffee (smart, actually).

But prompted by this event, I'm recollecting that the humble scone is bursting with possibility. Truly an unfussy canvas for playing with different grains and add-ins, be they sweet or savory, dry or juicy. True, Ms. Scone is nothing much to look at. But she knows this and doesn't try to hide behind any fancy frostings. She's happy simply in the company of a good cuppa coffee or tea and maybe some jam and cream if they're around. Prepared with the proper light touch, she'll reward you with a slightly crunchy exterior that yields to softer innards.

White Chocolate Cherry Scones

These white chocolate and dried cherry scones I made for the party are particularly tender due to the lower gluten content from the buckwheat flour (I used teff) and cornmeal. Methinks even a zealous stirrer would find them hard to mess up =). And you white chocolate naysayers, I encourage you to take a chance on these. Baking seems to caramelize the white chocolate so that the flavor becomes more complex. Plus, its infamous sweetness is reigned in by tart cherries and flavorful grains in a recipe that otherwise contains little sugar.

Lastly, I'd be remiss not to wish our hosts, Anh and Cherrie a big Happy Birthday this month! Please don't forget to check out their scones and those of all the other International Incident partyers by clicking on the thumbnails at the bottom of this post below the recipe.

White Chocolate Sour Cherry Scones [Printable Recipe]
Slightly adapted from Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich via David Lebovitz
Makes 8 large scones

DAVID'S NOTES: You can swap out dark chocolate for the white chocolate chunks. I prefer to used chopped chocolate because those pre-prepared chips don’t melt and get as gooey when baked. You can also swap out any other bits of diced dried fruit for the sour cherries; California dried apricots would be fantastic with the white chocolate chunks.

If your dough is very soft, or you don’t want to get the counter dirty, you can certainly spoon it onto the prepared baking sheet in 8 mounds. For firm, neater-looking scones, the dough should be not too sticky and you can knead a bit more flour into the dough. Since the scone dough is on the soft side, this is the time to get out your metal pastry scraper. If you don’t have one, a metal spatula will make lifting the dough, and the cut scones, a little easier.

1 large egg
Scant 1/2 cup (115 ml) cream or milk
1 1/3 cup (170 g) flour
1/3 cup (45 g) buckwheat flour [I substituted teff but whole wheat should work too]
1/3 cup (45 g) cornmeal, preferably stone-ground
1/3 cup (65 g) sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons (85 g) unsalted butter, chilled, cut into cubes
3/4 cup (105 g) white chocolate chunks
1/4 cup (35 g) dark chocolate chunks
1/2 (60 g) coarsely-chopped dried sour cherries

1 egg yolk mixed with 1 teaspoon milk
Coarse (or granulated) sugar for topping scones

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (200 C) and line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper. In a small bowl, stir together the egg with the milk or cream. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, buckwheat, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt.

Using a pastry cutter, work in the cold butter until the pieces are about the size of corn kernels. (You could use an electric mixer or food processor instead.) Add the egg mixture, stirring with a spatula, until the dough is moistened, then stir in the chocolate bits and sour cherries.

On a lightly-floured surface, pat the dough into an 8-inch (20 cm) round. If it’s too wet and is very sticky, knead in a spoonful or two of flour on the countertop. Use a pastry scraper to divide the dough into eight wedges and set them on the baking sheet, evenly spaced apart.

Brush the tops of each wedge with the a glaze made by stirring the egg yolk with the teaspoon of milk together with a fork. Sprinkle the tops of each scone with coarse or granulated sugar so they’re generously coated. Bake the scones for 25 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Inspired By Ispahan (Raspberry Rose Lychee Cupcakes)

Ispahan Cupcakes

My friend Mar's birthday and the deadline for Cupcake Hero's raspberry challenge were just days apart this month. And she even gave me free reign over what treat to make her. Call me silly, but I took this a sign from the baking powers that be. It was finally my time to try the trio of flavors (raspberry, rose, and lychee) made famous by Pierre Herme's Ispahan macaron cookie. Not too innovative on my part. But one could do worse than to trust the signature of one of the greatest pastry chefs alive =p. After perusing my favorite blogs for their renditions, I combined a few elements from each and added some touches of my own.

The birthday girl, some friends and I were actually heading up to NYC to celebrate. Baking was left until departure day for the sake of freshness, but what a tight schedule it turned out to be! I ended up packing the cupcakes with one hand while slinging my bags over the other shoulder then running to my friend's car. As soon as we arrived in New York, we went on an insane but fun food/bar-hop until 5 am.

Needless to say, we didn't get to the cupcakes that night. But they're sturdier than their delicate appearance suggests. Even over a day later, they remained quite delicious. At first bite, my brain was pretty confused to be tasting something it's more used to smelling. But once we got over that small hurdle, I understood the popularity of this combination. Juicy lychees and tart raspberries act as a delectable foil to the fragrant rose flavor. While the cool custard tames the sweetness. If you have extra filling, please try spooning it over the cakes as you eat them. Take my word for it, you won't regret it.

Lychee Rose Cupcakes with Raspberry Filling [Printable Recipe]
Adapted from Tartelette, Une-deux Senses, and The Baker's Dozen Cookbook
Makes 12 cupcakes

XIAOLU'S NOTES: The raspberry custard filling can be made up to 1 week in advance and refrigerated covered until ready for use. The recipe below makes extra, which would be delicious to serve alongside the cupcakes, use in a parfait, or use to fill some other baked good. Alternately, you can halve the recipe.

3/4 cup self-rising flour
1/2 cup all purpose flour
2 Tbsp ground almonds
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup PLUS 2 Tbsp sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
6 Tbsp milk
1 1/2 Tbsp rosewater
12 whole lychees or 24 halves if big (canned is fine)

Raspberry Custard Filling (Recipe below)
Buttercream Frosting (Recipe below)
Fresh raspberries, to garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a standard muffin pan with 12 baking liners. In a small bowl, combine the flours and set aside.

In a large bowl, on medium speed using an electric mixer, cream butter until smooth. Add the sugar gradually and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Add the dry ingredients in 3 parts, alternating with the milk and rose water. Do not overbeat. Using a flexible spatula, scrape down the batter in the bowl to make sure the ingredients are well blended.

Carefully spoon half the batter into the liners, place one lychee in the center of each and top with the remaining batter, leaving a 1/2-inch space to the top for the cupcake to rise. Bake for 20–25 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center of the cupcake comes out clean. Cool completely.

Once cool, cut a cone in each cupcake and spoon in 2-3 teaspoons of the raspberry custard filling. Replace the cone and spread or pipe on buttercream frosting. Kick back and enjoy!

Raspberry Custard Filling
Makes about 1 3/4 cups

1 1/4 cups milk
3 large egg yolks [save whites for the frosting]
4 to 6 Tbsp sugar
1/4 cup all purpose flour
3/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup fresh raspberries, mashed

In a non-reactive medium saucepan, heat the milk over medium just until bubbles form around the edges but it's not yet boiling.

In a medium bowl, beat the egg yolks (or whole egg and yolk) and sugar until pale yellow. Beat in the flour. On low speed, gradually add in half of the hot milk, beating constantly. Pour the mixture into the saucepan.

Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the pastry cream comes to a full boil, making sure it doesn't scorch. Remove from heat.

Strain the pastry cream through a wire sieve into a medium bowl (to get rid of any egg or flour lumps). Press plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pastry cream and poke a few holes in the plastic for steam to escape. Refrigerate until chilled, at least 2 hours. Fold the mashed raspberries through the pastry cream just before filling the cupcakes.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting
3 large egg whites, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
14 Tbsp unsalted butter, cool room temperature and cut into 10 pieces
1- 2 drops of food coloring (optional)

Combine the sugar and egg whites in the stainless steel bowl of an electric mixer. Place the bowl over a pot of boiling water making sure the bottom does not actually touch the water. Whisk constantly until the mixture reaches 160 degrees on an instant-read thermometer (I just whisked by hand and cooked it until the sugar was completely dissolved and the top became foamy). Be careful not to curdle the egg whites, remove from heat if this starts happening.

Remove the bowl to your stand mixer and beat on high speed with the whisk attachment for at least 3 minutes, until the mixture holds glossy, marshmallow-esque peaks and the bowl is completely cool (Very important - the frosting's consistency will be off otherwise).

With mixer on medium-low, add butter 1 tablespoon at a time, beating well after each addition (about 10 seconds between each addition). Increase speed to medium-high; continue beating until frosting appears thick, at least 3 minutes. (You'll hear a distinct slapping sound and visibly see the buttercream go from soupy to a cohesive, pipeable consistency.) Reduce speed to low, add the vanilla and food coloring (if using), and continue beating 1 minute to incorporate the additions and reduce air bubbles.

Friday, August 13, 2010

A Cobbler to Remember

I will never forget this peach cobbler. Not because it was my first. And not even because it was mindbogglingly good. (Don't get me wrong. It was darn tasty.) No, the reason this rustic dessert -- possibly named for its laid-back prep -- has taken a place of honor in my baking memory is that it took 3 days to make.

Now you may be thinking this was some cobblerization of the infamous 36-hour chocolate chip cookie (a day and a half well spent from what I hear). Alas, it wasn't. Far from any revolutionary baking method, what struck in reality was a short but powerful storm that snapped every large tree in our neighborhood and ripped our power lines to shreds. I was literally rolling out the biscuit dough when the storm came. So my embarrassing first reaction was "crap, I can't bake the cobbler now!"

Inner Beauty
Thankfully (in all seriousness) P and I, as well as his car and our apartment, came out unscathed. Truly lucky, because while the storm encompassed much of Northern Virginia, I hear our neighborhood was one of the hardest hit. Much of our perishable food didn't fair so well though. With the power out for 2 days, we were forced to pick the most important (read, expensive) items to jam into our tiny coolers.

Peach Cobbler
The cobbler dough was the first to go. Yet amazingly, the peach filling survived in the residual coolness of the fridge. What a relief! And not just because I hate wasted food and time. What I haven't told you is that these were no ordinary peaches. They were the juiciest, most perfectly ripe peaches I'd ever tasted. A sweet gift from a friend who'd gotten them locally. And so intoxicating that I halved the cobbler recipe so I could enjoy more of them fresh. What happened to that resilient filling? I remade the topping (while praying for good weather) and it baked up without a hitch. A lovely treat to celebrate our return to normality.

Peach Cobbler

Peach Cobbler [Printable recipe]
Adapted from Peace, Love, & Barbecue via Country Living
Makes 8 servings

XIAOLU'S NOTES: My peaches were so ripe and sweet that I reduced the white sugar by 3 tablespoons. You should start low and increase according to taste.

TIPS: The best way to peel a peach is to plunge it first into boiling water, then immediately into ice water. The skins will slip away easily as you peel with a sharp paring knife. Use the peaches right away or toss them with a few teaspoons of lemon juice to keep the flesh from turning brown.

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour [I substituted 1/2 cup whole wheat]
1 cup plus 2 Tbsp white sugar, divided
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 3/4 tsp baking powder
1/3 tsp salt
6 Tbsp unsalted butter, cold and cut into small pieces
3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon heavy cream

2 1/4 pounds peaches, peeled, pitted, and sliced 1/4-inch thick
2 Tbsp light brown sugar
2 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
1 Tbsp cornstarch

Combine the flour, brown sugar, 1 1/2 tablespoons white sugar, ginger, baking powder, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Cut in the butter using a pastry blender, 2 knives, or your fingers until mixture resembles coarse meal . Stir in 3/4 cup cream to form a dough . Wrap the dough in plastic wrap or parchment paper and chill for 1 hour, up to overnight.

Combine the peaches, brown sugar, 1 cup white sugar, and vanilla in a large bowl. Cover and let stand for 1 hour. Drain half of the liquid [I saved this and used it as a sauce for serving the cobbler.]; toss in the cornstarch. Transfer to a 10-inch round cast-iron skillet (or similarly sized oven-proof dish(es)).

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Remove the dough from refrigerator. If needed, let it warm up slightly until pliable. Roll the dough out on a floured surface to 1/4-inch thickness. Cut out 1 1/2-inch rounds. Top the fruit mixture with the rounds without overlapping. Brush the top of the dough with the remaining 1 tablespoon cream and sprinkle with remaining 1/2 tablespoon white sugar. Bake until golden brown and the fruit is bubbling in the center, about 35 to 45 minutes. Check that the biscuits are cooked through and return to the oven for 10-15 minutes if they're not. Serve warm, ideally with vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Mojito...(Yea You Guessed It) Cupcakes!

Mojitos on my mind...

My friend's boyfriend, Eric, had his birthday recently and threw a huge birthday bash. His friends are the reason I've heard of "icing." Let's just say they know how to party. A good strategy for getting everyone pumped up? Give your party a theme and have drinks to match. Skittles, in this case. Even as food-obsessed as I am, I'd never have thought to base a party around a candy. Guests were asked to dress head-to-toe in their favorite Skittles color (classic flavors only) and rewarded with Skittles-infused vodka shots. I'm pretty "girly" when it comes to drinks and prefer to taste the alcohol as little as possible. So I admit these shots tasted like rubbing alcohol to me, though with a fruity edge.

Mojito Cupcakes

One drink I can handle, even when made a bit stronger, is the Almighty Mojito. Seriously, how can you not love the taste of summer in a glass? I reckon you can't 8p. But I'm no bartender, plus vodka was clearly the poison of choice for the party. My thoughts predictably turned to that certain perfectly portable baked gift: The Cupcake. My starting point, a classic vegan recipe that produces wonderfully moist morsels. Without eggs or butter, the key mojito flavors of mint, lime, and rum could shine unhindered. Rounding things off, pretty swirls of cream cheese frosting with extra zing from a squeeze of lime juice. Thankfully, I was right to count on Eric's friends having a healthy appreciation for this classic cocktail. These and some red velvet cupcakes made by another friend were gone within the hour =).

Mojito Cupcakes! [Printable Recipe]
Adapted from VCTOTW and VeganYumYum
Makes 12 cupcakes

XIAOLU'S NOTES: You'll need about 4 limes total for this recipe, if you garnish with lime slices. Otherwise, you'll only need 2. For the frosting, know that cream cheese can become runny when overbeaten, so mix only as long as needed for each step.

1 cup milk or soymilk
1/2 C fresh mint, roughly chopped and bruised
Zest and juice of 1 lime (about 2 Tbsp juice)
2 tsp dark rum
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp cornstarch
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup canola or other neutral oil
3/4 cup sugar
Lime Rum Frosting (Recipe below)
2 more limes sliced OR fresh mint leaves, to garnish

Combine milk and mint leaves in a small pot over medium heat until hot but NOT BOILING. Remove from heat and let steep for 10 to 15 minutes. Pass the milk through a strainer to remove mint leaves, but press on the leaves to extract as much flavor as possible. Set aside to cool.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a regular 12-cup muffin pan with baking liners. Whisk the mint-infused milk and lime juice in a measuring cup and set aside for a few minutes to get good and curdled.

In large bowl, combine the sugar and lime zest and rub thoroughly to infuse the sugar with lime flavor. Add the milk mixture, oil, and rum, if using, and beat thoroughly. Sift in the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, and mix until no large lumps remain [small ones are okay].

Fill cupcake liners two-thirds of the way and bake for 20 to 22 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack, and let cool completely. Pipe or spread frosting on cupcakes and garnish with lime slices.

Lime Rum Cream Cheese Frosting
1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick), room temperature
8 ounces cream cheese, cold and cut into 6 chunks
Pinch of salt
2 tsp dark rum
1 Tbsp lime juice
1 1/2 to 3 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1 to 2 drops green food coloring, optional

Cream the butter, sugar, and salt together just until fully combined and smooth. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl to ensure even mixing. Add the cold cream cheese a chunk at a time, waiting until each is incorporated before adding the next. Add the rum and lime juice and mix just until incorporated. Taste the frosting, adding more sugar if needed. Add the food coloring, if using, one drop at a time and combining thoroughly after each, until you have the color you want.