Thursday, December 17, 2009

Death of an Ex

This was a post originally composed on Dec. 17, 2009. It is one of several posts in my drafts folder that I've decided to finally publish.

On Dec. 8th, my ex-husband passed away. We were not close after I moved away, though I tried to remain on friendly terms. His son found me after scouring through old emails, and we have reconnected and reminisced for a few hours already. His death wasn't a shock to me, but like having to put a beloved pet down, you're never really ready for it to happen.

I mourn his loss because he was someone I loved deeply. We were probably too much alike to make things work; I used to say if I'd been born a man I would've been him, with the exception of being able to drink. When I left he said, "I always knew you would leave." There are so many reasons why he'd make a statement like that, but nevertheless would try for a few years to win me back. We were best friends and soulmates but we couldn't live together as husband and wife.

All correspondence from him stopped about 6 years ago. His son told me his father was diagnosed with cancer at that time and I'm sure everything changed. I wish my ex had told me about being sick. I wish I could've told him how much I still cared. We went through so much before and during our marriage, it should have been worth something.

Rest in peace, John Michael Ingersoll. Maybe we'll see each other again on the other side.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Mom's Mac 'n Cheese revisited

I've always loved my mom's Mac 'n Cheese, but after reading a New York Times article, How Much Water Does Pasta Really Need?, it got me thinking about how to adapt the recipe to our current times, i.e., not so rich, trying to be frugal but not giving up too much. Why fix what ain't broke? Well, why not just for the hell of it? I almost never follow recipes exactly anyway.

Let's begin with how this dish has evolved over the years. Normally mom's version is full of cheese and whole or even evaporated milk. To make it healthier, I've been using light soy milk mainly because I'm lactose intolerant and wanted to cut down on the dairy, but also to cut down on the saturated fat. But going all the way with healthy alternatives -- soy milk, soy cheese, whole wheat pasta -- turned out less than satisfactory. Soy cheese doesn't have enough cheesy flavor and whole wheat pasta absorbs too much liquid and becomes mushy. To make it faster, I've tried not precooking the macaroni as a timesaving step, which ended up a mushy disaster.

I let the NY Times article stew in my brain for a bit, then started experimenting. Now after making several batches, I think I've hit it and even Jim "the white-and-brown-food eater" approves. The major flavor upside is there's hardly any milky creaminess to hide the cheese, so you can get away with using a lot less. And, you actually use pretty much all of the pasta water! How thrifty is that? I encourage you to try using this intriguing technique with other dishes. I've nostalgically named this dish in honor of my mom's original recipe, but she would never mess with the recipe like I've done here.

Mom's Mac 'n Cheese v. 2009
2 qts. water
1 T salt
1 lb. box of macaroni (not whole grain; try Ronzoni SmartTaste)
1 can cream of mushroom condensed soup
1 t. black pepper, fresh grated
1/2 t. nutmeg
10-12 oz. sharp or x-sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1 c. soy or regular milk, approx.
1/3 c. bacon bits (optional)
3 T bread crumbs (optional)

Preheat oven to 350F deg. Bring the water to a boil in pot, add the salt, then stir in the macaroni and cook for 7-8 minutes until al dente. Stir often, as the reduced water may cause the pasta to stick. Meanwhile, dump the undiluted soup, pepper and nutmeg into a 4+ cup measuring container. When the macaroni is done, drain the pasta water into the measuring container (with the soup mix) to make 4 cups. Discard any extra water if there is any. Whisk the soup mixture until blended. Spread 1/3 of the cooked macaroni evenly in a greased 13" x 9" glass pan. Scatter 1/3 of the grated cheese and 1/2 of the bacon bits, if using, on top. Repeat for the next layer. For the last layer, spread the macaroni, pour the soup mixture over it evenly (using "S" motions), then pour in approx. 1 cup of milk, or until the the liquids are ALMOST at the same level as the macaroni. Scatter the remaining cheese evenly over the top, followed by the bread crumbs, if using. Cover the pan loosely with a 1/2 parchment sheet or greased foil. Put the pan on a cookie sheet or other pan to catch any spills. Bake for about 45-55 minutes or until you can see almost all of the liquids have been absorbed (this is why using a glass pan is great). Remove the parchment/foil and bake uncovered for 10 minutes more to let the top crisp. Enjoy!

Monday, July 20, 2009

What I did this summer: Mafia Wars

Wow, I cannot believe it's been almost 3 whole months since my last post. I'm sure you haven't been wondering what I've been up to but I'm gonna tell ya anyway because it is my blog, after all.

Though I'm still baking bread (the ABin5 way, of course!) every other day, my free time has been sucked into the time vortex called Mafia Wars on Facebook. It's kind of sick, an addiction if you will. But the game is set up so it takes up as much time as you can give it. You must do jobs, make money, buy weapons, armor and vehicles, recruit more mobsters, attack, rob, snuff, retaliate and on top of all that, make sure your mafia family has all the loot they need by gifting and trading. Holy crap, sometimes I'll sit down and hours will disappear. Sometimes I'll take a break and continue to work on my Guitar Hero Metallica skills.

I'm having a lot of fun, though!

Someone recently left a comment about my bundt cake woes, and I have to tell you, I did solve the sticking problem but forgot to post it -- sorry. Here's what happened and what I did. Apparently, using Pam on nonstick bakeware is a cardinal sin. Why? Because it burns on and leaves a sticky residue. Oh, hello. I was aware of that from frying pan use but couldn't see it on the nonstick surface of the bundt pan. Here, let me yell it out to you: NEVER PAM NONSTICK COOKWARE!!! After very thoroughly cleaning the bundt pan, I made up a mixture called baker's grease which is:

1 part Crisco
1 part veg. oil
1 part flour (use cocoa powder for chocolate cakes)

The next time I baked the Chocolate Stout Cake, it unmolded PERFECTLY. Instructions are here at the 911 Baking site. I don't know why I was such a bad, numnutz baker. All I had to do was a little research, instead of repeating the same mistake 3 times in a row and whining about it. Doh!

In other baking news, an easy way to make your ABin5 bread simply divine is to knead some dried herbs, dried minced onion, or grated cheese while shaping the dough. I particularly like oregano and feta cheese, and I'll bet kalamata olives would be an awesome addition. I sprinkle the dried onion on top of the loaves before baking and of course they burn, but I'm fond of burnt onion flavor.

Hope you're having a great summer so far.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Lord of the Chocolate Cake II: The Twin Bundts

Hello, readers. Why still no pictures, you ask? Oh lemme tell you, you would not want to see the last two bundt cakes I made. I PAM'd the hell out of them, dusted with cocoa powder and still they stuck in the pans -- WTF!! They were almost Cake Wrecks material, and I couldn't bear to share that with you. It's possible the addition of the chopped chocolate to the batter is a terrible idea, and the cakes were back to being on the wet side. It may even be advisable to lower the oven temp. and bake longer than suggested. So without further ado, here's the latest recipe-in-the-works attempt at the GREATEST CHOCOLATE CAKE IN THE WORLD, using Fine Cooking's Chocolate Stout Cake as the basis.

The Great Chocolate Stout Cake Experiment v1.0
1-1/4 cups stout
1/3 cup mild molasses and dark corn syrup
7-1/2 oz. (1-2/3 cups) all-purpose flour
2-1/4 oz. (3/4 cup) unsweetened natural cocoa powder (not Dutch-processed); more for the pan
1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
10 oz. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1-1/2 cups packed brown sugar (or white sugar)
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1/3 cup sour cream
6 oz. semisweet chocolate, very finely chopped (pulsed in a food processor works well)

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350ºF. Spray PAM or other no-stick baking spray in a large nonstick bundt pan and lightly coat with sifted cocoa powder. Tap out the excess cocoa.

In a microwave, bring the stout and molasses to a simmer (note: I don't really see the need for this step, but did it anyway). Dissolve the baking soda in the mixture and let cool while preparing the cake batter.

Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt. With a stand or hand mixer, cream the butter in a large bowl on medium speed until smooth, then add the brown sugar and beat on until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Stop to scrape the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in the eggs one at a time, stopping to scrape the bowl after each addition. With the mixer on low speed, alternate adding the flour and stout mixtures, beginning and ending with the flour. Stop the mixer at least one last time to scrape the bowl and then beat at medium speed until the batter is smooth, about 20 seconds. Fold in the sour cream and finely chopped chocolate.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan, spreading it evenly with a rubber spatula and wiggling the pan to level the batter. Bake until a skewer inserted in the center comes out nearly clean, 50-60 minutes. Set the pan on a rack to cool for 20 minutes. Say a prayer to the cake gods and invert the cake onto the rack and remove the pan. Without crying, remove the stuck parts out of the pan and press back onto the cake as decoratively as you can. Let cool until just barely warm, then wrap tightly in plastic wrap if not serving right away; if serving, sift powdered sugar over the top if the cake is pretty; if it's a wreck (and it probably is), opt to drizzle a lot of ganache over the whole thing.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Time flies when you're a Guitar Hero (and why cakes should have nothing in common with freshly laundered towels)

Sorry there have been no new posts lately. My last one seems curiously timed to the release of Guitar Hero: Metallica, which was on March 23rd. Lest you worry, my "I'm a baker not a gamer" non-existent readers, my latest hunting expedition was for the BEST CHOCOLATE CAKE RECIPE. In fact, I have made several chocolate cakes recently. I have two good friends with back to back birthdays and cake needs, spurring the quest this year.

Jenni over at Pastry Methods & Techniques graciously analyzed this most-requested version from; read what she had to say about it. Well, I went ahead and made the cake -- a "practice" cake -- before Jenni blogged about it. The problem was, the cake turned out "ooey gooey" just as Jenni predicted and it deflated in the middle as it cooled. Armed with the clear vision of hindsight and Jenni's analytical skills, it was clear the poor cake needed some strength. She suggested replacing some of the oil with butter, using the creaming method (and by later alternating wet and dry ingredients, tighten up the gluten), and dissolving the baking soda in the coffee to avoid overrising. The second version did not overrise and was very dense and good. I split the layers and filled two of them with a sour cherry/raspberry filling and the main middle filling with Jenni's Crazy Good Mascarpone Cream (with 1 c. less whipping cream and 2 T Kahlua instead of Grand Marnier/dessert wine), used a poured ganache for frosting and topped with cocoa nibs and gold dust. It made for a delicious, beautiful birthday cake for my friend.

Are you ready for Round Two of the Best Chocolate Cake Recipe search? Jenni then posted a followup about her favorite Chocolate Stout Cake which is similar to Nigella Lawson's version. That got me to thinking about looking at recipes with stout. So, the next bout was a Stout Cake from SmittenKitchen, based on a recipe published by Bon Appetit and hailing from the Barrington Brewery in MA. The SmittenKitchen recipe was, I believe, just halved so it would fill a bundt pan, i.e., not otherwise altered from the original. The stout I used was Red Hook Double Black with Coffee. The recipe made a dozen cupcakes for another friend's birthday, plus a mini 3-cup bundt left over for us to try. The cake had pretty good flavor but seemed strangely fluffy and dry. You know the sensation of having that first bite of cake, which by all appearances is fine and moist, yet upon swallowing you realize you'd really, really like something to wash it down? And no, I did not overbake the thing! I was poking the bundt like every two minutes after 20 minutes had passed. I wanted something between ooey gooey and fluffy dry.

So now we've arrived at Round Three. Here was another Chocolate Stout Cake recipe from FineCooking, but with a twist: molasses. Hmm, I thought. That could be good, even though I don't really like molasses. So I made this version but didn't follow it exactly. I didn't have any brown sugar so used white. Also, I added 1/3 cup of sour cream because I wanted insurance against fluffy and dry. I baked it for about 40 minutes, then let it cool in the bundt pan overnight. The next morning I went to invert it and it stuck -- real bad. I put the bundt in a pan of hot water. No luck. I put the bundt in a hot oven for about 10 minutes, then gave it another shot. This time it plopped out, but 95% of the top was still in the pan. Why? Because the chocolate bits I folded in at the very end -- as per the recipe -- had all settled to the bottom of the pan during baking. It was almost like solid chocolate down there. Fortunately it wasn't for a special occasion, so instead of giving it the ol' heave-ho, I pulled out my trusty ganache and blasted it onto the sad ugly cake. Later I tried a slice and you know what? By golly, I think I'm onto something here. The texture was perfect: not fluffy and dry like a towel, not ooey gooey like a wet brownie, but just right moist with a little "tooth". The molasses added an assertive note of bitterness on top of the stout. Next time I'll try it with half the molasses (subbing the rest with dark corn syrup or honey), again add the sour cream, and for the love of mike put the chocolate chips in a layer in the middle of the cake pour and then, just maybe, I will have achieved THE GREATEST CHOCOLATE CAKE RECIPE EVER!!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Galette: pie for dummies, Girl Scouts & crust lovers

Why do I call galette "pie for dummies"? Because I think the hardest, most troublesome thing about pie is the handling and shaping of the dough. With galette (aka crostata), the dough is simply rolled out in a circle, the filling is heaped in the middle, the perimeter edge folded up over the filling and then it's baked. Tough, huh? I can't think of a baked pastry that's easier or more foolproof than freeform galettes! And now for the Girl Scout part: if you make the dough ahead of time and keep it in the freezer, you can be ready for those unexpected times when some glorious, ripe fruit magically appears in your shopping basket... or in the dead of winter, using apples or frozen fruit, you can surprise and delight your favorite crust lover with a lovely galette for breakfast or dessert. Is that not the definition of sheer happiness?

Freeform Tart Pastry
from Baking Illustrated

I like this dough because it's strong and withstands handling better than regular pie dough. The cornmeal also adds rustic texture and subtle flavor.

2 tbsp. sour cream
2 tbsp. ice water
1 c. (5 oz.) unbleached AP flour
1/4 c. fine stone ground cornmeal
2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
7 tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2" cubes

Stir sour cream and ice water together and set aside in the refrigerator. Process the flour, cornmeal, sugar and salt in a food processor, using 1-second pulses, until combined. Scatter the butter cubes over the flour mixture and pulse until most of the butter is incorporated. Dribble the water-sour cream mixture in and pulse until the dough just comes together (you may not need to use all of the water-sour cream). Gather the dough into a ball, place it on a piece of plastic wrap and flatten into a 6" dia. disk. Wrap the disk tightly with the plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours; or place in a freezer bag and freeze for future use.

Galette Fruit Filling
inspired by Home Baking (Alford/Duguid)

3 c. fresh fruit (pitted and sliced stone fruits, berries, apples, etc.)
5 tsp.+ sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon (optional)
1 tsp. cornstarch (optional)
1/4 c. finely chopped toasted almonds or walnuts
3 tbsp. butter, cut into small pieces

Preheat oven to 400°F. Place prepared fruit in a bowl, toss with 3 tsp. of sugar or more to taste. If the fruit is very juicy, toss with the cornstarch (make sure it dissolves). Allow the galette dough to come to near room temperature. On a piece of parchment paper, roll out the dough to a 12-13" dia. circle or oval. Spread the nuts evenly on the dough, leaving a 2" border. Mound the fruit over the nut layer and scatter the butter pieces on top. Fold and pleat the edges of the dough over the fruit, like a camera's aperture (or, for you TV sci-fi fans, like the Stargate's iris), leaving a good-sized hole in the middle to allow steam and excess fruit juices to escape. Brush the dough with water, then sprinkle the remaining 2 tsp. of sugar on top. Slide the tart with the parchment paper onto a cookie sheet. If you suspect your galette is near the point of deconstructing itself, you can pull up the four corners of the parchment and staple them together, as in the photo, to hold everything together. Bake for approximately 40 min., or until the crust is golden and the fruit is bubbly. If you stapled the corners, pull them apart for the last 10 min. of baking to allow the crust to brown properly. If the fruit looks dry or unappealing, warm up some jam and spoon or pour it onto the fruit. Allow to cool for a few minutes before serving.

Is that what juxtaposition is?

I make myself laugh sometimes. Like, I'm reviewing my most recent posts and they are about food and cat poop. Yecch. It's no wonder topic-specific blogs work best. It's like when I'd find myself in the checkout line with only Oxy10 and a bag of Dove chocolates... or two cans of chili with beans and Gas-X. Life can be funny that way and it's cheap entertainment.

I've been procrastinating lately. In the next day or two I'll post my favorite pie and galette dough recipes. Ah yup, that was supposed to be in honor of Pi Day, which was March 14th. I did make an apple galette for myself that day, though. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Psst! Secret Portuguese Sweet Bread

It's been a while since I've made Mom's Secret Portuguese Sweet Bread. Oh, I'll try other sweet doughs like brioche and challah, but none can top Mom's. She would not divulge the recipe for many, many years but eventually revealed it to me -- I think when I turned forty!! I'd always suspected it was based on a version that comes from Our Favorite Recipes, a series of self-published cookbooks put out by the Maui Assoc. for Family & Community Education. 1996 marked the 50th anniversary of their publishing the cookbooks, and they put out a fat compilation to celebrate. It's worth getting, and a must if you're interested in Hawaiiana (like the fascination with the processed meat Spam). Though there's no recipe for Portuguese Sweet Bread in it, there's so much more you won't miss it. Order your copy by writing to the organization at PO Box 1784, Kahului, HI 96733 (no price is listed, but you can also get it from Amazon, here).

This recipe came about through my Mom's attempts to recreate the old King's Hawaiian bread we used to get from the actual King's Bakery in Honolulu -- not the fluffy tasteless crap that King's, or whatever conglomerate owns them now, churns out for supermarkets. Mom's version, in my eyes, is a smashing success -- it surpasses any other sweet bread I've ever tried, homemade or commercial. It's also a wonderful all-around sweet dough to use for cinnamon rolls, sticky buns, etc. But I'll always like it best plain and warm, perhaps with a schmear of butter and topped with sweet memories.

Mom's Secret Portuguese Sweet Bread (updated method)

Microwave one peeled and cubed potato in water for approx. 4 minutes or until potato is soft. Reserve 1/2 c. of the water and let cool. Mash the potato.

1/2 c. potato water
1 c. mashed potatoes
3/4 c. milk
2 tsp. salt
1/2 c. butter, melted but not hot
1 c. sour cream
6 large eggs
2 c. sugar
4 tsp. yeast
9+ c. all-purpose flour
melted butter for brushing

Optional: cinnamon/sugar, chopped dried fruit or nuts, milk, powdered sugar

Combine the potato water, mashed potatoes, milk, salt, butter and sour cream in a blender until smooth. Make sure the liquid is not hot before blending in the eggs. In a mixer bowl, combine the sugar, yeast and 4 cups of flour with a batter attachment on low speed; gradually pour in the liquid mixture until incorporated, then beat on medium speed until smooth.

Continue to add the rest of the flour 1/2 cup at a time until the dough stiffens up. Switch to a dough hook and alternate beating in/adding flour until the dough starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl a little. Turn off the mixer and press your fingers into the dough; it should be sticky but not too gooey, and the indentations should remain.

Dump the dough out onto a generously floured surface. Knead the dough, adding sprinkles of flour if necessary, until it is smooth and elastic (5-10 minutes). The dough will remain slightly sticky due to all the sugar. Place the dough into a large, well-greased container, flipping it over so the greased side of the dough is up. Cover tightly with a lid or plastic wrap and let the dough rise until doubled. This can take from 3 to 8 hours, depending on the warmth of the room and strength of the yeast.

The recipe will easily fill at least four 9" x 5" x 3"H loaf pans or three 9" dia. x 3"H pans (round springform type). I usually do 7 balls, with 1 in the middle, in a springform pan. Decide whether you want to add any extra ingredients, like sugar/cinnamon swirl, dried fruits or chopped nuts, and get them ready.

When the dough has fully risen, plop the mass out onto a floured or greased surface and press the excess air out (no punching). Knead the dough a bit. Add in or roll up the optional ingredients if you wish. Divide(1) and shape the dough as desired(2). Place the loaves into well-greased pans, lightly covering with plastic wrap that's also been greased or sprayed with Pam. Do not overfill pans. Let rise again until almost double.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Remove the plastic wrap gently, then optionally slash the tops, do a milk wash for a very dark crust, or sprinkle sugar on top before placing in the oven. Leave plenty of oven headroom for the loaves to rise higher. After 20 minutes, reduce the oven to 325°F. Bake for a total of 35 min. to 50 min, depending on your loaf size (check loaf pans at 30 min., balls in round pans at 40 min.). I usually bake this bread until the internal temperature reaches about 190°F-200°F, which is slightly undercooked but I like it that way.(3)

Remove the loaves from the oven and let sit for 5 minutes in the pan before running a knife around the edges if necessary, popping out of the pan and allowing to cool on a rack. Brush tops with melted butter while still warm. Dust with powdered sugar when fully cooled if desired. Serve with sweet butter.

(1) Use a scale to apportion dough and get dough balls the same size. (2) If you know how to "round" dough, do it -- if the dough is lumpy or ragged, the bread will bake up that way. (3) To take the bread's temperature without making obvious holes or removing the loaf, insert the thermometer from the side of the loaf just above the pan rim, aiming down towards the middle.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

I love you, Olive Oyl

Okay, so I may not be Popeye, but I am loving the ABin5 Olive Oil Bread a lot lately. For instance, just yesterday I had a wonderful little picnic spread right at my desk. What was on the menu you ask? Like many things, it started with a sandwich: crusty olive oil bread moistened with an olive oil/balsamic vinegar dressing and stuffed with salami, Laughing Cow cheese and lots of arugula. All the components were laid out on a paper towel placemat, and I sensed hungry coworker eyes coveting my lunch. Someday when summer comes, a ripe tomato and a slab of mozzarella would be good additions to this sandwich. Oh, and then for dessert, a warm slice of apfelkuchen from my secret stash. My new happy meal!

Olive Oil Bread
adapted from Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day

As with other ABin5 breads, I'm assuming this bread's not a good keeper. But in my house it's always gone within a day, so I can't really say. It's great for pizza and other flatbreads, too.

2.75-3 c. lukewarm water
1.5 tbsp yeast
1.5 tbsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
925 g unbleached all-purpose flour

Mix the lukewarm water, yeast, salt, sugar and olive oil together in a 6-qt. container. Add the flour and mix into the liquids with a sturdy wooden spoon or your hands until fully incorporated. The dough will look lumpy. If the dough seems very stiff, add a little more lukewarm water (note: this dough is not as slack as the ABin5 Basic Boule). Cover the container with a non-airtight lid and let sit at room temperature for about 2 hours, where it can do its rising/collapsing thing. Refrigerate in the lidded container and use over the next 12 days.

Sprinkle cornmeal generously on an 8" or so piece of parchment and set aside. Cut off a hunk of dough about the size of a grapefruit. Sprinkle flour on the dough and quickly smooth the surface while shaping it into a round, taut ball -- start by cupping your hands lightly on the top of the dough and bringing them together at the bottom, pulling the surface of the dough into a smooth skin. Do this a few times, giving the dough a quarter turn each time. You may need to twist together the excess dough that's collected on the bottom (like turning a knob). Place the dough on the parchment and let it rest for about 1 hour. Preheat the oven and baking tile at 450°F, 30 minutes before baking.

Make at least two 1/2" deep slashes on the top of the dough. Transfer the dough and parchment onto the baking tile. Cover the dough with a 4" deep disposable aluminum roasting pan, that's large enough to accommodate the dough's expansion. After 20 minutes, remove the pan and slide the parchment out from under the dough. Bake for approximately 25-30 minutes more; it is done when the crust is a beautiful golden brown (also, internal temp. of 210-220°F). Allow the loaf to cool on a rack. Warning: this is when it's most likely to vanish into thin air.

Optional dough additions to try: 2 tsp. of dried Italian herbs, 3 tbsp. of grated parmesan cheese

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Damn good flourless chocolate orange cake

This recipe in various forms has been floating around the internet for a while, but it's still an excellent, can't fail cake that someone with a sophisticated palate will enjoy... and you DO have one of those, don't you? Now don't be put off by my horrid cake decorating -- after all, it was for home consumption and I just could not resist the opportunity to do something fun (see Play With Your Food). The cake has simple but strong flavors, blending the bitterness and intensity of whole oranges with the mellowness of cocoa powder, some tooth supplied by the ground almonds and all of it topped with the satisfying sweetness of dark chocolate ganache. I've been using Pernigotti cocoa powder (it's not Dutch, it's Italian!) and think it adds an extra dimension of chocolateyness. Surprisingly, I make the cake fairly regularly -- in between the brownie and fruit pie seasons. This recipe came from the Esurientes - The Comfort Zone blog (which sadly may be abandoned), and has very good instructions and pictures. Check out the original post, from July 15, 2005 here. I've added my own notes of course, and yes I am a weighing baker, so no conversions for you!

Flourless Chocolate Orange Cake
Inspired by both Claudia Roden & Nigella Lawson

Whole seedless Oranges, approx 375 g (about 2 large)
6 eggs
1 heaping tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
200 g ground toasted almonds
150 g caster sugar
50 g Dutch cocoa

200 g very dark chocolate
200 ml heavy cream

Put the whole, unpeeled oranges in a saucepan with cold water to cover and bring to the boil. Cover with a lid and cook for about 2 hours or until soft (poke with a fork, like potatoes). Drain, and when cool, cut the oranges in quarters and remove anything that won't easily puree like seeds, giant hunks of pithy stem ends, etc. Place the quartered oranges -- peel, pith and all -- in a food processor and process until smooth. Often it's best to complete the cooking of the fruit the day before. I usually boil and process several oranges at once, measuring out 375g for this recipe, then freezing the rest of the puree for future use.

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Use cooking spray or grease the inside of an 8" (20cm) dia. springform pan, and lay a parchment circle on the bottom. Add the eggs, baking powder, baking soda, almonds, sugar and cocoa to the oranges in the food processor. Process until you have what looks like a cake mixture with maybe a few knobbly bits of orange. Pour and scrape into the pan and bake for one hour, by which time a skewer should emerge fairly clean. Start checking after 45 minutes, as you may have to cover with foil to stop the surface from burning. Let the cake cool before attempting to remove it from the pan. To make the ganache, heat the cream until scalding hot and add the chocolate off the heat. Mix until combined, then whisk until the mixture cools and becomes thick and glossy. Apply the ganache with a spatula or cake knife, and decorate with pieces of orange peel or whatever else strikes your fancy if you're planning to eat it at home. Sometimes I pipe little dots or swirls with the leftover orange puree, but very sparingly because it's quite bitter (not unlike the cook!).

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Let them eat apfelkuchen

Sorry, there are no luscious pictures of my cake. Remember my ABin5 challah/brioche dough sitting in the fridge? Well, I was wondering what to make with it when I came across this post for Apfelkuchen (das Apple Cake) at OnlinePastryChef's terrific blog, Pastry Methods and Techniques.

I made two apfelkuchens, one for home and one for the office. Coworkers passed by, murmuring "it was to die for" and "mmm... apples, cheese" in their sugar-butter-yeast-fruit-cheese induced stupor. Nothing I've brought in has ever disappeared so fast (except birthday cakes, which is more akin to force feeding). And as you might guess I think I'm a pretty good baker. Let's see, I've brought in cinnamon rolls, sticky buns, fruit pies, all kinds of breads, cookies... and not those crappy kitchen mistakes, either. Are you getting the idea? This apfelkuchen was gone like it never even existed. But I knew it did, because not too long after setting the plate down in the kitchen, someone was bringing the clean plate back to me.

So I don't have any pictures of the apfelkuchen because it's all gone. You'll have to wait until I make it again. But I urge you, don't wait to make it. And if you want any for yourself, for pete's sake don't take it to work!

Restrained Apfelkuchen
from Pastry Methods and Techniques blog

The Dough
* 2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
* 1.75 oz. sugar (about 1/4 cup)
* 1/2 tsp salt
* 4 oz. whole milk
* 3 oz. butter
* 1 egg, at cool room temperature
* 8-12 oz. unbleached all purpose flour

The Apples
* 3-5 smallish Granny Smith Apples
* 1 TBSP lemon juice
* 1/4 tsp salt
* 1/2 tsp apple pie spice (or cinnamon, nutmeg and a tiny bit of clove)
* 1/2 oz. flour (2 TBSP)
* 2 TBSP sugar

The Cheesecake Part
* 8 oz. cream cheese (1 block), softened
* 1 egg, at cool room temperature
* 1/2 tsp vanilla
* 1/4 tsp salt
* 4 oz. sugar

Lots of parts, I know, but it’s pretty straightforward. Honest. Here’s how it goes:

1. Lightly spray a 9″ spring form pan with some non-stick cooking spray. Set aside.
2. Mix yeast, sugar, salt and about 4 oz. flour in the bowl of your stand mixer.
3. Heat the milk and the butter together. Don’t let it boil. You want it to be decidedly warm, but not hot. If it’s hot, let it cool off a bit. You’re looking for about 125-130 degrees, F.
4. Add the milk mixture and the egg to the mixer and mix with the paddle attachment for a couple of minutes.
5. Add another 4 oz. of flour, a bit at a time, and mix for another couple of minutes. You should have a pretty thick batter/soft dough. Change to the dough hook.
6. With the mixer on medium-low and the dough hook doing its thing, add flour, an ounce at a time until you have a soft dough. It might stick in the bottom of the bowl a bit, but it should clear the sides.
7. Set the mixer on medium and let the dough hook develop the gluten in your very rich dough for about seven minutes or so. At this point, you may wander off to check your email.
8. Once the dough is silky and stretchy, cover it and let it rise for an hour or two, depending on the temperature of the room. Like I said, there’s a lot of fat weighing this dough down, and it’ll take hours to double. I didn’t wait that long, and the dough did not double in size. Too bad; I had a dinner to get to.
9. Once the dough has risen, take it out and press it into the bottom and about 1-11/2″ up the sides of the pan.
10. Prep the apples. Peel and core them, and slice them into 1/4″ slices. Sprinkle them with lemon juice (to prevent browning, and also to add a little extra tartness)
11. Mix all the dry ingredients together, and toss with the apples.
12. Arrange the apples in a moderately attractive manner no more than 2 apple slices thick.
13. Mix the cheesecake portion together. With the paddle attachment, cream the cream cheese until smooth. Add the salt and sugar and cream on medium speed for about a minute. Scrape the bowl often. Add the egg and vanilla and mix until smooth.
14. Pour the cream cheese mixture over the apples, spreading it around with the spatula and making sure that it oogies down into the apples. Don’t let the cream cheese mixture flow over the lip of dough around the outside of the cake.
15. Cover and let rise until the dough is somewhat puffy. I let it hang out for 2 hours. If you were more patient during the first rise, you might only need 45 minutes to an hour.
16. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
17. Bake in the middle of the oven until the sides are a lovely golden brown, most of the cheese mixture is set and there’s just a little wiggliness in the center. The recipe said 30 minutes. The recipe lied. The recipe was a lying liar. I left mine in for close to 50 minutes.
18. When it’s done, take it out and let it cool to warm. Slice and serve.

Things to know:

* If you serve it without letting it chill and then reheating it, the center will still be a bit liquid-y. It will have gotten hot enough in the oven to get rid of pesky bad guys, but if you’re concerned, use pasteurized eggs. The good thing about the liquidy center is that it is like a thick sweetened cream–sort of a self-saucing dessert.
* This isn’t an overly sweet dessert. You can add a little more sugar to the cream cheese mixture and/or to the apples, but I didn’t think it needed it.
* If you do chill this, let it come to room temperature and then warm it in the oven before serving. This dessert is Very Good warm.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

It's Madness I Tell You... More Artisan Bread in 5

Light Wheat Boule, Olive Oil Loaf with Parmesan Cheese, Deli Rye with Caraway & Poppy Seeds
Due to last month's shock-and-awe gas bill, I wanted to try making better use of the oven and baked these three loaves at the same time. Sadly, the two of us weren't able to consume them quick enough, but boy did we give it our best shot. One thing about the ABin5 method is, it's about having your bread on a daily basis. The loaves will not really keep for more than two days after baking. Old bread can be refreshed by placing it in a dampened paper bag and set in a hot oven for a few minutes. But it's probably better to bake only what you need for 2 days' time, freeze the loaves right away, or give some away. Still, it's pretty cool to be able to bake all these different breads at once, don't you think? My new strategy for energy saving is to bake something, anything, before putting the bread in, essentially using the preheat for baking. I've been doing frozen pizza (400°F deg) and brownies (325°F deg) a lot lately. Gods help me.

The oven with a 14" x 26" kiln shelf replacing one standard rack
I love my Bluestar oven. Do you see how nicely it accommodated this latest breadbaking insanity? Rather than having molded-in rack tracks, it has rack guides that just screw into the sides. I was able to buy a kiln shelf from a local pottery supply store that fits into its cavernous cavity just right. It bakes like a mutha, too. Just doesn't have self-clean, a minor drawback.

The fridge with 3 different dough batches going
I just noticed last night that I've gone through a 25 lb. bag of flour lickety split. Hmm, my symmetrical soul thinks one more Cambro container of dough is needed here...

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The CatGenie's in the closet

A while back I wrote about how we'd converted a closet into a cat bathroom. Did I forget to mention that the closet was the only substantial storage area in the house, other than the attic? Yes, we (all right, who am I kidding, it's just me) must truly be insane to put cats before storage. In addition to the CatGenie, I ended up caving in to the oldest cat, Cleo (reflected in the mirror). Either she's not keen on using the CatGenie, or doesn't like to share, or decides she needs to go just when the CatGenie starts a cycle. For any of these reasons, she will then proceed to use the bed as her toilet. Thus the Return of the Old Litter Box.

The closet also provides access to the attic for our wild girl Frida, who loves to play up there (we call it "Attica"). I designed the "ladder", and Jim built it with some leftover 3/4" MDF. The 9.5" x 16" shelves were attached by nail gun and wood glue, staggered and set at about 30 deg. angles, to a back panel of MDF. I later de-angled the lowest shelf and Frida seems to like that better as she can pause before for heading up (also, as you can see, the old litter box fits better underneath it). The shelves are topped with a cheap, rubber-backed coir doormat that was sliced up. It took Frida about 30 seconds to figure out the new way to get up into the attic. The coir provides good traction as she leaps up the shelves and through the cutout in the ceiling, and she loves to stretch and scratch it.

The unit only cost about $10, which was for the doormat, and perhaps 2 hours to cut the pieces and assemble it. The sheet of MDF had been purchased for another project, a flip-down notebook computer holder/bookcase that's now installed in front of the treadmill. It's been very rewarding to make these small custom projects. Not only does it give me an opportunity to design something, usually as simply as possible, but the price can't be beat!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Learn a new language this year

This is from a thread on LOLspeak:
so... who actually chooses to talk like this?
Aug 18 2008, 2:07 PM EDT
1) 12 year old adolescent girls?
2) 40+ something or other women who are destined to become the crazy cat lady down the street?
3) Patients from mental Institutions who are granted internet access for taking their meds?
If you guessed I was number 2, you'd be right! But if you're like me, who wasn't good in any language but English, you can resolve to learn a new language this year. May I humbly suggest LOLspeak, Klingon, or even the ancient language Nadsat (from A Clockwork Orange)? Look here, there are handy online translators to help you: English>LOLspeak, English<>Klingon, English>Nadsat. So don't just sit there being all down with your monolingual self -- get out there and learn, especially if you're unemployed. I mean, you never know where this great new skill can take you. Perhaps a job at the new intergalactic penal colony with the ultracool employee milk bar (which naturally attracts cats)?

And speaking of languages... A word to direct marketers: HELLO! It's not the 50s or 60s even. Please, do not assume because my first name is Spanish and my last name is Japanese, that I know either language. It's a waste of paper, printing and postage.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Seattle Souper Swap

It felt great to be back in the soupmaking saddle, as well as catch up with old swappers and meet new ones. That's me in the pink shirt sitting at the back window. See the paper bag? The one with the "FREE BREAD WITH EVERY QUART OF PINTO BEAN WITH MINT & PINE NUTS SOUP!" sign? Well, I'm not bragging but, okay, yes I am. My soup was the first to be picked and the first to run out! Using the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day method, I baked 8 boules earlier that day. The bread came out looking like I slaved for days -- only my friend Knox (the founder of Soup Swap and the one pointing at the screen in the photo) knew how easy it really was. I love the Soup Swap -- it's about homemade food, local folks, lots of creativity and now, a little bit of snake oil showmanship. I guess I'll have to work on my Vince Offer impersonation for the next swap. Read more about the Seattle Soup Swap at, Nerd's Eye View, and Beastmomma.

Here's the recipe I used for this year's soup:

Pinto Bean Soup with Mint & Pine Nuts
adapted from a recipe by Deborah Madison, Prodigy Guest Chefs Cookbook

32 oz. dried pinto beans
16 oz. dried lentils*
2 T vegetable or light olive oil
2 small onions, minced
1 T New Mexico ground red chile
8 c. vegetable broth*
10 c. water
2 c. soy creamer**
1/4 c. chopped cilantro
1/3 c. chopped parsley
1/4 c. chopped scallions or chives
3 T. or more chopped mint*
1/3 c. pine nuts, toasted and finely chopped
1 can pinto beans*
2 cans garbanzo beans*

*Not in original recipe
**Half-and-half originally specified
  1. Soak the dried pinto beans overnight; drain and rinse.
  2. Transfer the beans to a pot, cover with fresh water, bring to a boil for 5 minutes, then drain and rinse.
  3. Heat the oil in a large soup pot and sauté the onion and chile together briefly.
  4. Add the beans, lentils, vegetable broth and water to the onion mixture. Bring to a boil, then simmer until beans are tender, about 40 minutes. Skim bean scum off as needed.
  5. Season to taste with salt. Add more chile if desired. Continue cooking until beans are completely soft.
  6. Purée half the beans with some cooking liquid in a blender. Stir the purée and creamer into the pot.
  7. Drain and rinse the canned pinto and garbanzo beans before adding to the pot.
  8. Stir in chopped herbs and pine nuts, reserving some for garnish if desired.
Yield: about 10 quarts of soup

Note: Response from Deborah Madison about the missing mint (1/29/08): This recipe comes from my book, The Savory Way (now out of print) and was titled Pinto Bean Soup with Mexican Cream and Pine Nuts. I interpreted it from a pueblo "recipe" and as such, it would probably be made with apple mint, but regular mint from the store (peppermint, not speamint) is fine as well.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The religion of Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day

My friends, need I say more to get you non-believers on the path? Just get the good book, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, by Jeff Hertzberg & Zoe Francois, and it will change your life. I can get home from work and have a hot, freshly baked loaf on the table in about an hour and a half. Folks, I did discover one drawback, though. This method takes away all the "fun" and guesswork I used to have trying to make artisan breads: wildly inconsistent starters, risings, timings, results, etc. Now -- sigh, ho hum -- my breads almost always have perfect crust, crumb and flavor. Watch the authors and see how easy it is to impress yourself, family and friends. Say Hallelujah!

Basic Boule (makes about eight 1-lb. loaves)
by “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day”

1450 g lukewarm water (6 cups)
3 tbsp regular yeast
3 tbsp salt
1850-1900 g unbleached AP flour (13 cups)
can substitute up to 250 g with whole wheat or rye flour

Measure out the water into your bread bucket. Sprinkle in the yeast and salt and stir to dissolve. Add the flour and stir with a stiff spoon and/or wet hands until all the flour is incorporated. The dough may be slack and a little lumpy. Cover or close the bucket loosely and let sit on the counter for about 2 hours, then keep in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. When ready to bake, place a piece of parchment on your peel and dust it with cornmeal. Using a bread knife, cut off a grapefruit-sized piece of dough from the bucket. Place on a floured surface and "round" or "cloak" the dough by gently pulling the outside of the dough into a smooth, firm ball (about 2 minutes or less). Place the boule on the parchment smooth side up and let rest for 40-90 min. 30 min. before baking,
preheat the oven (containing a baking tile on one shelf and a broiler pan on another) @ 450°F. Dust the boule with flour and use a greased bread knife or santoku to slash the top (x, +, or tic-tac-toe design) 1/4"-1/2" deep. Get a cup of hot tap water ready. Open the oven, slide the parchment and dough gently onto the tile, carefully pour the hot water into the broiler pan, and close the door quickly. After 15 min. you may remove the parchment if desired. Allow the loaf to bake until deep golden brown, about 35-55 min. Use your peel to remove the boule from the oven and put on a rack to cool completely. TIPS: Bread made from week-old refrigerated dough tastes best! No need to wash the bucket, scrape the sourdough bits into your new batch! For more tips and errata, go to

Monday, January 19, 2009

National Soup Swap Day is coming!

Don't forget that Saturday, January 24th, is the third NATIONAL SOUP SWAP DAY. Make up six quart containers of your favorite soup, freeze 'em, bring 'em to your local soup swap event, and come home with six quarts of soup other swappers have made. Easy and delicious. Go to the SoupSwap website and see if there's an event happening near you. If not, vow to organize one. And you can do it anytime! I'm so proud to say a friend started the soup swap a few years ago right here in Seattle, and now it's gone nationwide. It's Soups Gone Wild! This year I made a soup based on a recipe attributed to Deborah Madison, called Pinto Bean Soup with Mint and Pine Nuts. It's funny but, wherever this recipe appears on the internet, the ingredient "Mint" is missing! So I improvised the quantity of mint and added some other things. It's pretty damn good for a vegan soup if I may say so, especially with a freshly baked mini boule... which, BTW, I am totally crazed on baking by using the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day method. Get the book, a bucket with a lid, some baking tiles and a peel and you're in business! I usually substitute some whole grain in the Basic Boule recipe and the bread is awesome to look at and to eat. I also just used the ABIFMAD method for mom's double super secret Portuguese Sweet Bread recipe and it worked splendidly for a pan of cinnamon rolls. I will try to take pictures next time before Jim's carb sonar (carb-nar?) kicks in.

Tomorrow's the big day!

I am so ready to have new people in charge.

My short "HONEY-DO" LIST for Barack:
  • Fix the economy
  • Kill all the insurers, then build a healthcare system
  • Stop warring
  • Give or create jobs for people who want to help -- do-gooders are wanted and needed
  • Throw away the key for anyone who tried to redefine torture and allowed it to happen
  • Take all those fat cats who received and squandered bailout money out and shoot them
  • Get the puppy already!
Celebrate Inauguration Day as you see fit!