Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Chocolate-Caramel Cake with Fleur de Sel

I forgot to highlight my 1200th post, but 1212th is a good number, too! I’d been eyeing this cake on Bon Appétit for a while, and waiting for lactose-free cream to make it really paid off. The cake wasn’t entirely lactose-free, because I did use butter for the frosting. (If you cut this rich cake in 12 pieces, it’s about 2 Tbsp. of butter per serving, so I used Lactaid. I did recently get my hands on a good vegan frosting recipe with shortening and butter extract instead of butter, but haven’t gotten around to using it as a base to adapt yet.) The frosting was like the center of a Lindt truffle – it was absolutely delicious! The crumb was light and moist (thanks to the mayonnaise), the caramel in the frosting was subtle, and the fleur de sel was the perfect addition. The Engineer called this cake “stellar”, and I’m inclined to agree. The recipe recommends chilling the cake if it won’t be served right away; while I found that chilling it a few hours was fine, beyond that, the frosting hardened too much for my taste, so I like to let it come to room temperature a bit before slicing.

For the cake
2¼ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder
1¾ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. kosher salt
3 large eggs
1½ cups sugar
1¼ cups mayonnaise (not low-fat)
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
1⅓ cups lukewarm water

For the frosting and assembly
12 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
¾ cup sugar
1 Tbsp. light corn syrup
¼ cup water
1 cup lactose-free cream
1½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
¾ tsp. flaky sea salt (such as Maldon)
extra-virgin olive oil (for drizzling; optional, and I didn’t use it)

For the cake
Preheat oven to 325 °F. Lightly coat cake pans with nonstick spray and line bottoms with parchment paper; spray again. (The original recipe called for 8” round cake pans, but I used 9” round pans.)

Whisk flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.

Using an electric mixer on high speed, beat eggs and sugar until pale and doubled in volume, about 4 minutes. Add mayonnaise and vanilla and beat until just combined. With mixer on low speed, add dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternating with water in 2 additions, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Scrape batter into pans, dividing evenly.

Bake cakes, rotating halfway through, until a tester inserted into the centers comes out clean, 25–30 minutes. Transfer pans to wire racks and let cool 20 minutes before turning out onto racks. Let cool completely.

For the frosting and assembly
Put chocolate in a medium bowl. Bring sugar, corn syrup, and water to a boil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Boil, swirling pan occasionally and brushing down sides with a wet pastry brush, until mixture turns a deep amber color, 10–12 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in cream (mixture will bubble vigorously). Return to medium heat and cook, stirring, until smooth, about 2 minutes. Pour caramel over chocolate and stir until mixture is smooth; let cool, stirring occasionally.

Using an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat chocolate mixture, gradually adding butter, until frosting is thickened and smooth, about 1 minute. Chill, stirring occasionally, until stiff enough to spread easily, 20–25 minutes.

Place 1 cake layer on a cake stand or platter. Spread 1 cup frosting over to come just beyond edges. Sprinkle with ¼ tsp. salt and place second cake layer on top, pressing down gently. Repeat process with 1 cup frosting and ¼ tsp. salt. Place third layer on top, and spread remaining frosting over top and sides of cake. (Cake can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.)

Just before serving, sprinkle remaining ¼ tsp. salt over top of cake; drizzle slices with oil, if desired.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Sweet Potato Crisp

I’d been meaning to make this sweet potato crisp for a while, but never got around to it. Then I decided that it would make a good side (colorful vegetable!) to a chicken dish we were having, plus, the Little Prince would definitely like it if I omitted the alcohol (which I did, obviously). As I was reading the ingredients, I realized that it called for a bit of cream, which I can get lactose-free here, so that sealed the deal! (I don’t think the cream is essential, though, so you could use lactose-free milk instead or omit it entirely.) I halved the recipe, since I had no army to feed, used vegan margarine instead of butter, and made it in an 8”x8” dish. It was lovely! I really enjoyed the contrast of the crunchy top and creamy insides, along with the sweet and salty in this dish. The Engineer first said that he liked it, then upgraded his statement to say that he loved it! Note that if you wanted a thicker, more substantial crust, you could double the amounts of topping ingredients and still use the same dish.

For the potatoes
2.5 lbs. sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 ½” cubes
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, room temperature (or vegan margarine)
¼ cup lactose-free cream
1 Tbsp. maple syrup
salt (to taste)

For the crisp topping
6 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
6 Tbsp. cup old-fashioned rolled oats
6 Tbsp. chopped walnuts (pecans would be good, too)
6 Tbsp. brown sugar
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
pinch salt
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter or vegan margarine, melted

Preheat the oven to 350 °F.

First, start the sweet potatoes: Place the potatoes in a large pot, and add cold water to cover. Bring to a simmer and cook until very tender, about 20 minutes. Drain potatoes, return to the pot, and mash with the remaining potato ingredients. Purée in batches in a food processor until very smooth, and transfer to a 9”-square (or similar) baking pan. (I simply mashed the potatoes and didn’t use any blade action at all, so don’t worry if you don’t feel like taking out your food processor for this.)

While the potatoes cook, mix the topping ingredients in a medium bowl until well blended. Scatter the topping over the potatoes and bake for about 30 minutes, until the topping has browned. Serve warm.

Note: Both the sweet potatoes and the crisp topping can be made ahead and refrigerated up to 3 days in advance. To serve, bake the sweet potatoes for 20 minutes, add the topping, and bake another 40 minutes.

Poulet aux champignons, sauce crémeuse

Maintenant que je suis à Montréal, j’en profite pour faire des recettes avec des produits sans lactose que je ne trouve pas aux États-Unis, comme le fromage de chèvre Elite de Damafro. Voici donc une recette adaptée des Carnets de Miss Diane, qui la servait à l’origine en cassolettes. J’ai laissé tomber la sauge (je n’en avais pas) et l’alcool (puisque le Petit Prince allait partager notre repas). C’était délicieux! J’ai servi cela avec un croustillant de patates douces.

4 poitrines de poulet, désossées et sans la peau
sel et poivre du moulin
1 c. à soupe d'huile végétale
1 oignon, coupé en 2 puis tranché très mince
2 gousses d'ail, hachées finement
225 g. de champignons de Paris, tranchés
quelques feuilles de sauge séchées et émiettées (je ne les ai pas utilisées)
¼ tasse de Cognac (facultatif)
3 c. à soupe de farine de maïs
1 ½ tasse de lait sans lactose
70 g. de fromage de chèvre sans lactose
le jus d'un demi citron
persil frais, haché finement

Parer les poitrines de poulet et les couper en cubes. Saler et poivrer.

Chauffer l'huile dans un grand poêlon à surface antiadhésive, à feu moyen-vif. Ajouter le poulet, en deux ou trois fois au besoin, et cuire pendant environ 4 minutes. Réserver sur une assiette.

Réduire le feu à moyen et faire tomber l'oignon et l'ail. Ajouter les champignons tranchés et la sauge et cuire, en brassant, pendant environ 5 minutes ou jusqu'à ce que le liquide soit évaporé. Ajouter le Cognac et flamber. (Moi, je me suis dit : « Non, merci! ») Cuire jusqu'à complète évaporation du liquide. Parsemer de la farine et poursuivre la cuisson, en brassant, pendant 1 minute.

Ajouter le lait, petit à petit, et porter à ébullition en brassant. Réduire le feu et laisser mijoter pendant environ 3 minutes, ou jusqu'à ce que la sauce soit lisse et qu'elle ait épaissi. Remettre le poulet dans le poêlon avec le jus de cuisson accumulé dans l'assiette. Laisser mijoter, en brassant de temps à autre, pendant environ 3 minutes ou jusqu'à ce que le poulet ait perdu sa teinte rosée à l'intérieur. Ajouter le fromage et poursuivre la cuisson, jusqu'à ce que le fromage ait fondu et que la sauce soit lisse. Ajouter le jus de citron. Au moment de servir, parsemer du persil.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Rhubarb Bars

Sorry about the long silence. I’ve been getting used to cooking in a small apartment kitchen again, which is even smaller with a high chair in it. On the bright side, having access to lactose-free cream once again is an absolute delight! I’ll get around to posting those recipes soon enough, but first, here’s one for the tail end of rhubarb season. I got this rhubarb bar recipe on Lara Ferroni’s blog. These bars are like lemon bars, only with rhubarb curd instead of lemon curd.

My bars didn’t come out as pink as the ones in the original post, but the curd would have been pinker had I selected only the pinkest part of the stalk for the purée. This is purely aesthetic, though, and doesn’t change the taste. I made them with butter, but in hindsight, I would make then with vegan margarine next time. Note also that while I used the optional lemon zest in the recipe, I’d omit it next time, as I thought the taste competed too much with the rhubarb. I changed the quantities below, because right off the bat, if a recipe starts with “mix rhubarb with sugar, then use part of that for the curd, then use part of the curd for the bars”, I’m annoyed. So I reduced some quantities, and the amounts below are what I recommend. These bars were absolutely delicious – what a great way to showcase rhubarb! I’ll be adding this to the recipes I make each spring.

For the rhubarb curd
200 g. rhubarb (about 5 or 6 stalks)
2 or 3 Tbsp. sugar (to taste, depending on how sweet your rhubarb is)
2 Tbsp. water
4 egg yolks
6 Tbsp. sugar
a pinch of salt
1 teaspoon lemon zest (optional; I’d omit it next time)
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter or margarine, cut up into chunks

Wash and chop rhubarb into ½-inch chunks. There is no need to peel it, but if your stalks are particularly large, you might trim off any tough parts. Stir the rhubarb and 2 or 3 Tbsp. of sugar together and let sit for about 10 minutes. Place in a medium sized pot with the water and cook over low heat until you can no longer see whole pieces. Turn off the heat and let cool to room temperature. Blend to a smooth purée if you desire (while this isn’t necessary, it does ensure a smoother consistency, and it was a cinch with my immersion blender, so I recommend it).

In a double boiler (or a bowl over boiling water), whisk the egg yolks, remaining sugar and salt. Whisk until well combined and warm. Add the stewed rhubarb and the lemon zest, if using. Keep stirring until the mixture is warm again. Remove from heat and stir in the butter chunks. If you are not using the curd immediately, let it cool to room temperature and then store refrigerated for up to a week.

For the rhubarb bars
4 oz. butter, room temperature (or cold vegan margarine)
1 cup (136 grams) all-purpose flour
¼ cup sugar
a pinch of salt
rhubarb curd from the recipe above
powdered sugar, for dusting (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 °F.

Place the butter, flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a mixer. Start on low speed (to keep the flour from flying everywhere), stir until it resembles coarse crumbs. Then increase speed slightly and continue to mix until a soft dough forms. It's kind of magic.

Take the dough and press it into a 9" x 5" baking dish. (I used an 8”x8” dish, and perhaps I should have baked it a few more minutes than is recommended, but it worked out fine.) Let rest at room temperature for about 15 minutes, and then bake until it is lightly golden, about 20 minutes.

Pour the curd onto the crust and bake for another 10 minutes, until the curd has set. Cool to room temperature. Refrigerate if desired (it's easier to slice when chilled). Dust with powdered sugar before slicing, if you'd like.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Maya Angelou

The Engineer, the Little Prince, our faithful Darwin and I have made it to Montreal safely. While I was offline, I was saddened to hear of the passing of Maya Angelou. If I had a flag on this blog, it would be at half-staff for a while. She was someone I admire greatly, and I still had some hope of seeing her at a public appearance someday, even though she had been in poor health for several months.

It seemed like every news outlet had a different headline, as Dr. Angelou was a Renaissance woman who had worn so many hats. Of course, leave it to Fox News to announce Maya Angelou Dead at 86 – Cancels Houston Appearance on Friday, but wouldn’t you know it, The Onion actually came through with Maya Angelou, Poet, Author, Civil Rights Activist, And—Holy Cow—Tony Award–Nominated Actress, College Professor, Magazine Editor, Streetcar Conductor—Really? Streetcar Conductor? Wow—Calypso Singer, Nightclub Performer, And Foreign Journalist, Dead At 86. They forgot her Grammys.

I don’t have anything to say that hasn’t been said already, so I’ll leave you with her official obituary, as written by her family.
“Dr. Maya Angelou was born to Vivian Baxter and Bailey Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri on April 4, 1928. She passed to her Heavenly Reward quietly on May 28, 2014 in her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She is survived by her son, daughter-in-law, two grandsons and two great-grandchildren, a nephew, a niece, grandnieces, great-grandnieces, grandnephews, great-grandnephews and a host of beloveds.

From the time she was a child, Dr. Angelou proved that she was a unique individual with amazing commitment and focus. The birth of her son when she was seventeen did not prevent her from continuing in pursuit of her dreams for a creative career. From her start as a singer in San Francisco’s Purple Onion and Hungry I in 1953 to the installation of her portrait in the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. in 2014, she was continuously on a dramatic, musical or political stage.

She was a dancer, a singer, an actress, a poet, a writer, a magazine editor, a playwright, a film director as well as a college lecturer, full Professor and a fearless, outspoken activist. She never let her various vocations inhibit her activism or her willingness to speak out against injustice and inequality. She performed in a number of major productions. She was in both the 1954 International Touring Company and the subsequent movie of Porgy and Bess. She was also in the 1977 television series of Alex Haley’s Roots and in the 1995 film How to make an American Quilt. She was in too many other productions to name. She directed the films Georgia, Georgia and Down in the Delta.

Her first book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, was published in 1970. She went on to write thirty-five other books including autobiographies, poetry and essays. A number of her works were best sellers and were published in number of languages.

Throughout her life Dr. Angelou’s activism never flagged or waned. In 1959, during the height of the Civil Rights Movement, she headed the New York office of Dr. Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Next, she worked for the Arab Observer News Magazine in Cairo, Egypt, which was the premiere English language magazine in the Middle East. Later she moved to Ghana and met Malcolm X. She returned to the United States to work for him, but he was assassinated four days after her arrival in New York. She continued to be [a] voice of humanity, speaking out against anything that fettered the human spirit. Her life and her body of literary work trumpet the importance of love, tolerance and forgiveness. She was a warrior for truth, justice and love.”

[Update: The funeral service will be live-streamed by Wake Forest University here on Saturday morning, June 7th, from 9:55 AM EDT to 12:30 PM EDT.]