Monday, February 22, 2010

something from nothing

Last year I was effusive about the coming of spring. This year, my heart is as warm and fuzzy as it's ever been as I celebrate its arrival. Hey, I enjoy the wintry bleakness of day and darkness of night as much as the next person (except not really), so spring. Gosh. I've been waiting since October for you. Thanks for coming!

There is just something so wonderful about the markers of spring. Sure, I know about the science behind it all and how the earth tilts at 23.5 degrees and the sun hitting the hemispheres and all of that. But every time I see a daffodil head peeking out of what was only a patch of brown earth the day before...

a blossom on a formerly bare tree...

and this, my most favorite, I call it the "flower tree" but I'm sure it has a real name...


Soon the flowers' pink petals will unfurl, revealing their snowy white insides...

Abraham Joshua Heschel, a 20th century Jewish theologian and mystic, wrote this:
I did not ask for success (in this life).
I asked for wonder.
And You gave it to me.

Seeing something come from essentially nothing is quite the life-giving, snap-you-out-of-winter-doldrums experience. With each passing day of this new season, I see as an opportunity for re-creation, re-birth, a limitless process of re-doing and re-being where everything old is new again.

A sweet older woman I've known for quite some time recently clued me into an excellent way to bake bready goodness from (almost) nothing. (Alternately known as lazy baking, or How do I use up all of this leftover Heineken in the fridge?) Yes, this bread left me in almost as much wonder as the first almond tree blossom of spring. 4 ingredients! (6, if you don't have self-rising flour, but it's really not a big deal.) Any way you cut it, jaw-to-the-floor-inspiring.

Beer Bread

3 cups self-rising flour               or          3 cups all-purpose flour
                                                                   4 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
                                                                   1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons sugar
1 12 oz. can/bottle of beer
3 tablespoons butter

Preheat oven to 350. Butter or spray a 9x5 loaf pan.

Sift the flour and sugar together in a large bowl. Mix in the beer until well blended. Pour into loaf pan and bake for 45 minutes. Remove pan from oven, pour the butter that you just melted in the microwave over the top and bake for an additional 15 minutes.

I will now set the scene for you. Your kitchen is filled with the dreamy, yeasty scent of baked Heineken, the butter has dispersed across the bread to form this incredibly crispy and textured crust, and you are burning your fingertips as you tear into the oven-hot loaf. Welcome, spring, indeed!

What brings you wonder?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

love in the time of brownies

Here's how not to show somebody some love:

Sugarless chocolate cake, not as in it-has-synthetic-sweetener but as in I-forgot-to-add-any-sugar-to-this-cake period. Can you say brain fart? I pity the fool who has to find a creative way to get rid of it...oh wait, that would be me. Don't pity me; just help me find the garbage can.

There are lots of ways you can tell someone you love him/her apart from sugarless chocolate cake, and lots of ways people can give love to you (besides awful cake)! Kind words, spending time together, a thoughtful act of service...little gestures can add up in huge ways.

This year, I'm spelling out love a different way:

B-R-O-W-N-I-E-S. Heart shaped, to be specific.

Brownies were probably one of the first baking things I had attempted. Back in the day, they came straight from the box. And...I used to pass them off as homemade.

Gosh. It makes me blush just to think about it.

Why I feel the need to be confessional two posts in a row is anybody's guess, but I will promise you that I haven't done that in a long long time (the masquerade of box mix for homemade, not the confessional part. That I have to do all the time). A really long time. Promise.

Okay, enough with the emo. Can I tell you about these brownies? Pleeeeeease? These are no ordinary box brownies. For starters, all that gummy chewy texture is gone. Fake chocolate taste--none of that! These are all real, all chocolate, and if you remember to add sugar (please remember!)...just the right touch of sweet. A perfect manifestation of love, if it were possible to eat love. Oh, who am I kidding? I've eaten love. This, friends...this equals love in the time of brownies.

What spells love for you, in food form or otherwise?

Chocolate Mascarpone Brownies
(adapted from Donna Dooher of Food Network Canada (who knew this existed?!) but I found it via The Kitchn)

1 cup (2 sticks) butter
3 oz semi or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder, preferably Dutch-process (I get mine at Peet's), sifted
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese (= half of an 8 oz. tub), softened
3 eggs, room temperature
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 325. Grease an 8x8 pan (I used heart silicone molds) (you could also bake them in a mini muffin pan for brownie bites! etc.)

Melt butter in a saucepan on the stove. Place chopped semi/bittersweet chocolate in a large bowl and pour the melted butter over it. Let it sit a bit, then stir until chocolate is melted. Sift in the sugar and cocoa powder. Beat in the mascarpone, eggs, and vanilla, stirring until smooth. Fold in the flour and salt.

Pour batter into pan of choice and smooth out the top. Bake 40-50 min (for 8x8 pan), 20-25 min (for regular sized cupcake-sized), less for mini or until toothpick inserted in center comes out mostly clean (a few crumbs sticking to it is fine).

(There's a ganache you can make to gild the lily (heat 6 tbp cream and 3 tbp butter until melted, pour over 6 oz. finely chopped chocolate and stir until melted; pour over cooled brownies) but I've never gotten that far...)

miscellaneous fun things: this weekend I learned that my loyalties can be easily procured with chicken and waffles! Wait, that's not really anything new.

Sammy's "love me" face.

official note: I've decided to try to get a post out every Sunday evening Monday? for consistency's sake. Perhaps more if the inspiration hits, but you can count on this, at least. I love my readers, by the way, and if you have any comments, suggestions, or inquisitions for me, let me know! Happy Valentine's Day!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

lemons and confessions

Hi, my name is Stephanie, and I'm a madeleine/granola-holic. In the 2ish weeks since I've posted about these overly addictive substances, I seem to have based my food intake around them, leaving everything else in the dust. Whoops. Given that baking and rebaking them have become my primary interests, secondary activities include:
  • grousing that the honey takes so long to come out of the bottle (for granola)
  • trying to figure out ways to use up all the egg yolks that are an unfortunate by-product of the madeleines (the aforementioned egg custard tarts did the trick once, and I've also managed to foist egg yolk-sucking tiramisu on at least 4 friends)
I've noticed that I fall into this rhythmic pattern about once a month. November was the month of pumpkin (bread, muffins, cookies), December a time for Meyer lemons (as cake, poppy seed muffins, in buttermilk cookies, and a less-than-stellar Christmas Day pudding cake). January, apparently, lent itself well to madeleines and granola.

But now it is February. All hell is breaking loose, supposedly, because I am finding myself going back to the Meyer lemons. Enter Joy.

Slice-and-bake cookies? Awesome. Involving citrus zest? Double awesome. Opportunity to use up yet more egg yolks?

Sold, to the googly-eyed girl drooling in the corner.

(who may or may not have a predilection for nibbling on her baked things along the way)

Citrus Sables
(adapted from Joy the Baker, who in turn got them from Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan--incidentally, this very book came in the mail the other day for me...get excited!)

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup powdered sugar, sifted
citrus zest (you can adjust based on your preferences; I used 2 smallish Meyer lemons and 1 lime)
1/2 tsp salt (I like using Maldon)
2 egg yolks, room temperature
2 cups flour

In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter at medium speed until creamy. Add both sugars, citrus zest, and salt and beat until well blended, 1 minute. (Dorie then says that the mixture should be "smooth and velvety, not fluffy and airy". Take notes.) Reduce mixer speed to low and beat in the egg yolks. Turn mixer off, dump in all the flour, and drape a kitchen towel over the mixer. (This is for flour probably flying everywhere purposes, although it didn't happen to me...) Pulse the mixer at low speed around 5 times, each pulse lasting 1-2 seconds. Take a peek under the towel; if the flour is mostly mixed in, keep mixer on low and mix in the flour until just a teensy bit is left. Use a spatula to manually stir in the rest; you want to work the dough as little as possible. (Dorie now says that desired dough consistency is "soft, moist, clumpy" instead of smooth. Should feel like Play-Doh. Yummm)

Have two big pieces of plastic wrap ready along your countertop. On one of them, dump out the dough, gather into a ball, and divide in two. Shape each into a log about 9 inches long and wrap in the plastic. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours, up to 3 days (or if you're impatient, in the freezer for less time).

Center a rack in the oven and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 350.

Unwrap log of dough and slice cookies 1/3 inch thick. (If you want, you can brush a whisked egg yolk on the logs and roll in coarse sugar before slicing.) Place cookies on the sheets (not too far apart; they don't spread much) and bake one at a time, 17-20 minutes (my oven tended toward the latter). Done cookies should have light brown bottoms, light golden edges, and pale centers. Eat eat eat eat eat.

PS: just to show you how rogue of a month February is shaping out to be...

chocolate cupcakes (with melted chocolate frosting!) for a friend's surprise birthday party last night.

What's your theme for February?