Tuesday, October 26, 2010

bite-size pecan pies in a cream cheese crust


These pecan pies, baked in mini muffin cups, are called "tassies." Tassie is a Scottish word for cup, which I suppose has something to do with the size or shape of these. Pecan tassies are supposedly a French/American creation, possibly stemming from some mashing of cultures down in New Orleans, but no one's really sure. 

I think these were the favorite dessert at Mum's 50th. (Yes, there were three.) I think I liked the espresso-cream-filled eclairs (dipped in espresso-tainted white chocolate) best, but I was outvoted by the general population. (I didn't get any pictures of my little eclairs (there were also white chocolate and dark chocolate eclairs), so you don't get to see them 'til I make them again, sorry folks).

If you love pecans, brown sugar, or the idea of pie you can pop into your mouth, make these. If you just like any of these things, make these anyway. Maybe they'll change your mind.


Pecan Tassies
From pastry cook by Catherine Atkinson

the pastry
1/3 C butter
3/4 C + 2 Tb cream cheese
1/2 C flour

the filling
1 eggs
1/4 C + 2 Tb firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 Tb butter
pinch salt
1/2 C pecan nuts, whole

Grease a mini muffin cup pan.

In a food processor, whirl the flour for a few pulses. Then add the cream cheese and butter (both diced) and pulse until a dough forms.

Roll out the dough thin, and line the mini muffin cups with circles of dough. Chill for at least a half hour.

I swear I could have eaten this pastry straight. It probably had something to do with the obscenely delicious amount of cream cheese involved.

While the pastry chills, make the filling.

The filling
Preheat the oven to 350.

Beat the eggs for a moment. Slowly add the brown sugar while beating, then add the vanilla, salt and butter.


Count out 12 whole pecans. Chop the rest. Place a spoon of chopped pecans in each chilled pastry cup, then cover with the filling. Place a pecan on top of each for decoration.

Bake for 20 minutes. Cool and serve at room temperature.


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

a tart of caramelized leeks, shallots, mushrooms, and garlic atop a parmesan puff pastry crust


This is not the prettiest pastry in the world. I am very okay with this, because it means there's more for me, if you lot all decide to start judging food by how snazzy it ties its tie. Because even if this is not the prettiest tart I've encountered, it's darn near the tastiest. And, trust me, once you've had a bite, it just keeps getting prettier and prettier...

And actually, I'm lying a little bit (maybe I want to keep you from buying all the leeks and garlic in the world, too?). It's got some nice rustic allure to it, especially if caramelized leeks mean poetry to you, too, and when you cut into the tart, the swirls that form inside the crust--layers of buttered, parmesan pastry--are downright lovely.

This isn't even taking into account the smell of caramelized garlic and onions and browned, melt-in-your-mouth pastry floating about in the air.


The tart tatin is traditionally a sweet apple tart with a parmesan crust (I think), but savory versions like this are popular, too, according to my cookbook. This is my first of either sort; I quite approve. 

Leek and Shallot Tart Tatin
adapted from Catherine Atkinson's The Pastry Cook 

the pastry
one sheet storebought puff pastry, frozen
1/2 C - 1 C parmesan cheese

Defrost the puff pastry in the fridge overnight. The next day, unfold it on a flat, clean surface. Sprinkle the cheese on top, then fold the pastry in thirds, like a wallet. Turn the pastry so that the long side is directly in front of you. Roll out so that it is the same size it was before. Wallet-fold again and stash in the fridge for thirty minutes while you make the filling.

the filling
2 Tb butter
2 shallots, quartered
5 garlic cloves, peeled but whole
1/2 leek
1/2 C mushrooms
1 tsp sugar

1 Tb balsamic vinegar
3 Tb water
a big pinch chopped fresh thyme

Slice the shallots and garlic then saute them in the butter for 5 minutes on med-low heat while you cut the leeks and mushrooms.

Quarter the leek lengthwise and put two of the quarters away. Chop the two remaining quarters into two inch lengths. Half the mushrooms and then cut them into wedges. Add to the pan and stir.

Add 1 tsp sugar. It will help the vegetables caramelize. Cook until most vegetables are brown and sweet (5-10 min).


Add the vinegar and water and let it boil down (~10 min). This will soften the garlic further without burning anything. When the vinegar and water have thickened to a glaze, set the pan aside to cool. (To tell if it's thick enough, scrape your spatula across the bottom of the pan to reveal the metal. Watch how the liquid flows back into the space you cleared. If it creeps slowly, like syrup, you're set.)

Meanwhile, roll out the reserved dough big enough to fit over the pan. Set the oven to 375.


When the pan is cool, lay the dough over the top. Then, dock to pastry (prick it) and bake for 25-35 minutes until risen and golden.

Let the tart cool for at least 10 minutes before you invert onto a plate and serve, sliced into wedges.


Sunday, October 17, 2010

rich cocoa buttermilk cookies with dark chocolate chips

IMG_1035 - Copy (2)

By general consensus, these are rather decent chocolate cookies. My roommate says they're some of the best she's eaten. Another friend requested the recipe before the bowl-ful was half gone. One fellow took a bite and said, mouth full, "Wow."

I had four cups of buttermilk left over from making my paternal grandmother's fantastic buttermilk pancakes. (The pancakes will be updated later; this is going up now, for the friend who asked for the recipe). I wanted to do something with it, so I looked up some recipes. I ended up making these buttermilk chocolate cookies, buttermilk shortbread with jam centers, and buttermilk cinnamon coffeecake. All of these turned out quite tasty; I think buttermilk will be showing up in my fridge more often...

The cookies were richly chocolate and not too sweet. The buttermilk made them tender and toothsome. My roommate calls them "heavenly" and says they remind her of chocolate sprinkles--harder on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside. I recommend them, the next time you have buttermilk hanging about your fridge. Or when you don't. I hear they sell it in grocery stores.


adapted from Baking Bites's Melt-in-Your-Mouth Buttermilk Chocolate Cookies
makes about 4 dozen

1/2 cup butter
1 1/2 cup cocoa powder

2 cups sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup buttermilk

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda

2 cups chocolate chips

Turn your oven to 350.

Melt your butter and beat the cocoa powder into it until the mixture is smooth. Add sugar, vanilla, and buttermilk.

Dump the flour and baking soda on top and mix vigorously to incorporate. When you've beaten the lumps out with the strength of your will and the sweat of your brow (or the power of your stand mixer), stir in the chocolate chips. The darker, of course, the better. Add more or less chips to your taste. I think I added about two cups, but I didn't really measure.

Spoon the batter onto cookie sheets. Don't make them too big; the cookies will spread and rise a decent amount. 3/4-inch-diameter balls, 12 to a sheet, is about the right size I think.

Bake at 375 for 10 minutes. The centers will still be slightly soft, but the edges should be set. Let them cool and the centers should firm up into solid cookie.


Friday, October 15, 2010

a salad of peaches, caramelized onions, candied pecans, and fresh avocado in a fig vinegar dressing over a bed of fresh spinach and spring greens


This was the salad for my mother's fiftieth birthday.

Summer Peach-Fig Salad
spring greens and spinach
1 avocado, sliced
candied pecans (recipe below)
caramelized onions (recipe below)
braised peaches (recipe below)

The night before (or day of, if you like work), make the caramelized onions and candied pecans (see recipe below). Pour them into the same box or bag and refrigerate overnight. This saves you a lot of hassle and makes the salad-making later a very simple exercise.

When you're ready to make the salad, put the greens into a large bowl. Place the onions and pecans on top and grate on some pepper. Braise the peaches (see below) and pour peaches and dressing over the salad. Slice the avocado and lay the wedges on top. Serve and, hopefully, enjoy.

caramelized onions (easiest made the night before)
1/2 large red onion (or one small one)
1 Tb butter


Chop the red onion in half lengthwise (through the stem). Put one half aside. Put the flat side of the other half face-down on your cutting board and chop into 1/4 inch slices so you form half circles. Caramelize the onion in a large frying pan with the butter, over medium heat, for about 30 minutes, or until soft and brown and sweet.

candied pecans (easiest made the night before)
1 1/4 heaping C pecans
1/4 C powdered sugar
1 Tb butter


Saute the pecans in butter for a minute or so. Add the sugar and stir until dissolved. Let cool.

braised peaches; and fig dressing (make immediately before you want to serve the salad)
2 peaches
1 Tb butter
1 Tb sugar
1/4 C fig vinegar


Saute peaches briefly (2-3 minutes) in melted butter, sugar, and vinegar. Pour the entire pan, juices and all, over the salad; the sauce serves as the dressing.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

individual creme brulee with fresh berries


I have a fondness for creme brulee; the crack of the caramelized top, sweetly burnt, and the creaminess of the custard below. These are a bit of a deviation from the basic, as there are fresh berries tossed in with the custard, and they're baked in pastry-lined muffin tins, instead of straight-sided ceramic custard pans (this is because I didn't have enough mini custard pans).

These were tasty and quite satisfactory, though I want to play some more with methods of caramelization. Does anyone have any ideas? I think it might mostly be technique I have to practice (and Papa did most of these lovely things, anyway, as I was slaving over the risotto pot (gleefully, which is the only kind of cooking attitude I'm interested in)).

Very Berry Creme Brulee
from Pastry Cook by Catherine Atkinson

the pastry
2 1/4 C flour
1/4 C ground almonds (almond meal)
1 Tb powdered sugar
2/3 C butter diced
1 egg yolk
ice water

Stash the butter in the fridge while you gather the dry goods.

Whirl the flour, almonds, and sugar in the food processor a few pulses. Add the butter and pulse until the butter pieces are a little smaller than peas. Add the egg yolk, pulse, then sprinkle with water. Whirl again. Add more water, as needed, until the dough pulls away from the sides of the work bowl and forms a ball. Do NOT over-water. Give the flour a little bit of time to soak in the water before you add more; that's one of the ways it'll trick you into drowning it. 


Roll out the dough and line your well-greased muffin pans. Chill for at least one half hour.

Dock (poke holes in the pastry) and bake in a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes. Keep an eye on it; if it starts to puff up, go in with a toothpick and let the trapped air out. I didn't have to, but recipe books keep saying my pastries will puff up if I don't weight them down with pastry weights I'm too cheap to buy. In my experience so far, with pie crusts and such, I'd say just bake them, and if there's a bubble, just stick it. All will be fine. But we've discussed the fact that I'm a lazy cook before, now haven't we?

If you'd like to weight your pastry down with pastry weights (metal or ceramic beads, or just dried beans), line the pastry with parchment paper and fill when you're blind baking (translation: baking an empty shell).

While the pastry cools, prepare the custard.


the custard
4 egg yolks
1 Tb corn starch
1/4 C sugar
a few drops vanilla
1/4 C half n half

the extras
2 C fresh berries (I used raspberries and blueberries)

1/2 C powdered sugar

Beat egg yolks, corn starch, sugar, vanilla, and half n half. Warm in a double boiler, stirring constantly, until it thickens slightly. Do not let it boil.

After the pastry shells have cooled, line them with berries and pour in the custard. Let chill for at least two hours (I chilled them overnight, because I had too much to cook the next day-- this was a dessert for Mum's fiftieth birthday dinner, in which my game plan was to be as extravagantly over the top as possible).


About twenty minutes before you're ready to serve, sprinkle the powdered sugar on top of the custard and caramelize it.

There are two ways to caramelize the sugar: use a small kitchen blowtorch or use the broiler setting on your oven. One is more fun. Guess which.

If you're using the blowtorch: lightly flick the flame over the sugar. Never let it sit in one place, because it will burn.

If you're using the oven: set it to your highest broiler setting and let it get hot. Then slide the custards in and watch through the oven door until they look golden and delicious. Don't wander away! It doesn't take very long and burns easy.

Let cool, then devour.


Monday, October 4, 2010

fragrant spiced fig muffins with a pecan and brown sugar streusel


A friend and I went to visit a brilliant lady in Berkeley. Miz Agatha, our Berkeley friend, is an engineering student, a dancer, a writer, a master of the sewing machine; organized, thoughtful, and enthusiastic in her life.

We spent the evening in Miz Agatha's co-op's kitchen, a warm wide space with giant fridges, stainless steel tables, a monster Kitchen Aid mixer, and a closet-sized room for washing dishes. Their talented Friday night chef created a Korean soup of grilled onions and sea food (hot oil on the side), with rice noodles accompanying. Bok choi and a big tray of pork falling apart in its own juices rounded the meal out.

What does this have to do with fig muffins? I'm getting there. At breakfast, Miz Agatha slipped back to the kitchen and comes out of with a soft, ripe purple-green fig, sliced in two, and a small dollop of goat's cheese. Have you ever had a fig before? she said. I hadn't.

I bought a flat full the next day, had a platter of cheese and figs as part of dinner, and then made these muffins the next morning.

These muffins are soft, mellow, and richly aromatic. The sweet crunch of the struesel goes well with the ripe figs and moist, fragrant cumb.


Spiced Fig Muffins
Adapted from Alton Brown's Old-School Muffin recipe
3 large fresh figs, diced
1/4 C red wine
1 tsp cinnamon
a few grates nutmeg

wet goods
1/2 C sugar
2 Tb brown sugar
1/2 C vegetable oil
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1/2 C plain yogurt
1/2 C sour cream
1 Tb half n half

dry goods
2 1/2 C flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp allspice
a few grates of fresh nutmeg (this makes a BIG difference. Don't use that nasty stuff in the jar. Please).
a few grates of black peper
a pinch of salt

1/4 C brown sugar
1/3 C pecans, chopped
1/3 C flour
2 Tb butter, salted
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp of the leftover spiced wine
a few grates of nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

grate fresh nutmeg!

In a small, shallow dish, pour the wine and spices over the chopped figs. Let sit while you prepare the dough.

Beat the wet ingredients (sugars, eggs, yogurt, sour cream, and half n half) together for two minutes. Dump the dry goods (flour, baking powder and soda, and salt) onto the wet goods and stir until just combined. The batter will be very thick, don't worry.

In a small bowl, make the streusel: mash the sugar, butter, pecans, flour, wine, and spices with a fork until it forms a crumbly topping. If the crumbles are moist and bigger than peas, add more flour to dry it out. If it's too dry, add a little butter.

Fold the soaked figs into the batter. Don't add too much of the wine (you'll thin the batter out) but a little's fine and tasty.

Spoon the batter into the muffin cups. Fill them almost all the way to the top. I know most muffins are a 2/3-of-the-way-up the muffin cup affair, but I think the thickness of this dough means the muffins don't rise as much. Top with the streusel.

Bake at 375 for 18-20 minutes. The house will smell of cinnamon.