Where have I been, you ask, during this near week of silence? Spending some one-on-one quality time with my jar of dulce de leche, in fact. But it's high time that I pry myself away, give my teeth a good brushing, and share some observations from my little red kitchen.
First, dulce de leche and peanut butter on toast is divine.
Second, Havanna alfajores don't hold a candle to homemade. (more on this coming soon)
Third, if you thought banana and chocolate were closer than close and the bestest of friends, you should see what happens when you introduce dulce de leche into the mix. Ménage à trois, anyone?
In junior high, I had the same teacher for Math and Science in Grade 8, Computer Science in Grade 9 (yes, I took Computer Science and honestly can't recall a single thing we did) and Science in Grade 10. Mr. Ferrier had the unusual distinction of being both a great teacher and well-liked by the students. At the end of my Grade 10 year (and junior high), he signed my yearbook with the following:
Good, better, best.
Never let it rest.
Until the good is better,
And the better, best.
It may not be immediately clear what this has to do with banana bread. As I'm typing this, I'm beginning to wonder myself. But it's something like this:
Banana bread is good
Banana bread with chocolate is great, but why stop there.
Banana bread with chocolate and dulce de leche defies superlative.
Tricked Out Banana Bread
(with Chocolate Chunks and Dulce de Leche Swirls)
1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup sugar
2 bananas, very ripe
3 tablespoons milk
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup chocolate chunks
1/2 - 2/3 cup dulce de leche
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a loaf pan and set aside.
In one bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
In a second bowl, mash the bananas well using a fork. Add the milk, stir, and set aside.
In a third bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. Add the egg and mix well.
Add the dry ingredients and mashed banana, alternately, to the butter mixture, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Stir just until combined. Fold in the chocolate chunks, reserving a small handful for the top.
Pour approximately half of the batter into the greased loaf pan. Drop half of the dulce de leche, in spoonfuls, on top of the batter. Use a knife to swirl the dulce de leche ever so slightly into the batter (or leave it be). Repeat with the remaining banana bread batter and dulce de leche. Sprinkle with the leftover chocolate chunks.
Bake until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out relatively clean (i.e., nothing more than melted chocolate and dulce de leche). Start with 45 minutes and check in regularly after that.
Source: Based on this recipe posted on Orangette.
Saturday, August 25, 2007
Monday, August 20, 2007
Dulce de leche. Milk jam. Confiture de lait. Manjar. Cajeta. A sauce by any of these names tastes just as sweet. Dulce de leche is a caramel-like spread made of sweetened milk, slowly cooked until it bronzes and thickens.
On our trip to South America back in February and March, we encountered dulce de leche and its close cousin manjar nearly everywhere we travelled in Chile, Argentina and Uruguay.
Essentially, dulce de leche is to South America what nutella is to Europe. It flavours the ice cream, fills the alfajores and other local pastries, and tops the breakfast toast. They eat it anytime, anywhere, in anything.
Short of spooning it directly from the jar into my mouth, my favourite way to enjoy dulce de leche is alongside another South American sweet: churros. We had our first taste of this match made in heaven in Piriapolis, a beachside escape in Uruguay. Trolling the streets of the village after a morning at the beach, we stumbled upon a tiny storefront with a single churro press poised over a vat of hot oil. The friendly shopkeeper, who was seated curbside chatting with a friend when we arrived, hopped up and fried a made-to-order churro for us (and a mini churro for himself). After filling the centre with a stream of warm dulce de leche, he dusted the whole shebang with sugar. Each bite was a satisfying mélange of salty and sweet, crunchy and gushy; perfect for a snack and even better for breakfast.
I'm quite certain that with a little searching I would discover a number of great sources for dulce de leche here in Paris. But with milk in the fridge, sugar in the cupboard and some time on my hands, I set out to do what any self-respecting baker would do and made it from scratch. A sticky floor, several sponges and a few choice words later, I was the proud owner of a two-toned jar of dulce de leche. (The two tones being the result of the two-batch approach I resorted to after the first batch overflowed its pot onto the floor while I was *busy* reading Hollywood gossip across the room.)
Now I ask you, what does one do with a whole jar of dulce de leche?
Besides eat it for breakfast everyday.
Dulce de Leche
4 cups whole milk
2 cups fine white sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
Combine all ingredients in a large pot. I emphasize large (think stock pot) because the mixture really bubbles up. Simmer over medium heat, stirring from time to time, until the mixture thickens and turns caramel in colour (about 1 1/2 hours).
Source: Based on this recipe posted at R khooks.
Friday, August 17, 2007
Browniebabe wannabes are popping up on food blogs at every turn, and I wanna be one too.
This recipe was given to me by my friend J. at university. As the president of our faculty's volunteer society, she frequently organized bake sale events to raise money for Kingston community organizations. Her Junior Mint Brownies were always the first to disappear from the tables of home baked goods and I always felt a little sorry for the poor bakers whose inferior brownies sat unpurchased long afterwards.
Put away your Valrhona and Scharffen Berger chocolate and your
premisconceptions about what makes a good brownie, because this one's made with cocoa and candy and it tastes like a million bucks.
A layer of Junior Mints embedded in the batter makes for an especially moist and chewy chocolate mint crumb. But these brownies don't feel the need to show off their minty flavour with a silly mint leaf garnish or garish green icing. Nope, they're content to blend in with the rest of the crowd and let their taste do the talking.
Humility, I like that in a brownie.
Junior Mint Brownies
5 1/2 ounces Junior Mints
1 1/2 cups butter, melted and cooled slightly
3 cups sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 cups flour
1 cup cocoa
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a 9" x 13" baking pan.
In a large bowl, stir together melted butter, sugar and vanilla. Add eggs, one at a time, and whisk until well blended.
Sift in cocoa powder and stir to combine. Add flour, baking powder and salt and blend well.
Spread half of the batter in the prepared pan. Arrange Junior Mints in a single layer over batter. Carefully spread the remaining batter on top, covering the Junior Mints. Use a knife or spatula to smooth the top of the batter.
Bake for 50-55 minutes or until brownies begin to pull away from the sides of the pan. Cool completely in the pan before cutting into squares.
Notes: If you just can't bear to have your mint brownie look like all the rest, use mini York Peppermint Patties instead of Junior Mints. Part of the white mint will remain unmelted, so your brownies will have a nice white stripe in the centre when you slice them into squares.
Labels: Bars and squares
Thursday, August 16, 2007
Simply Breakfast is a deliciously simple blog concept. Check it out and then come right back.
Here's what I love about it:
- She is eating breakfast and not just slugging back coffee.
- There is someone out there who takes the time to photograph her food, while the rest of the world is struggling to get out of bed and stressing over what to wear.
- She doesn't feel obliged to explain the photo with more than a date.
- The bird's eye view of the photos is irresistibly voyeuristic, as if you're looking over a shoulder.
- You can watch the progression of breakfasts from day to day and imagine the context for the minor deviations and the complete aberrations.
There is considerably less variation in my breakfast diet. For the last few years, rain or shine, summer or winter, come hell or high water, my day starts with a bowl of hot oatmeal. As the rolled oats bubble away, I sip my OJ and watch intently for the perfect consistency. Well after soup and just before glue, I pour the finished product into a bowl, sprinkle it with raisins, nuts, brown sugar and cinnamon, and fold once with a large spoon. Hold the milk, please.
But out of the blue, I recently found myself craving a summer-appropriate alternative. Not wanting to abandon my oatmeal ritual completely, I baked, cooled and cut my hot oatmeal breakfast into bars. A strip of this chewy molasses cereal bar with a pot of your best natural yogurt is a killer combo that will keep you ticking all the way to lunch.
Raisin Nut Granola Bars
1 1/2 cups rolled oats, old-fashioned
1 1/4 cups puffed wheat
1 cup mixed nuts
1 cup raisins
6 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons molasses
1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Coarsely chop the mixed nuts and toss onto an ungreased baking sheet. Add the rolled oats and shake to combine. Bake for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
In the meantime, combine the honey, molasses, brown sugar, butter and salt in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat.
Once the oats and nuts are toasted, remove them from the oven and reduce the heat to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease or line a 9-inch square baking pan and set it aside.
In a large bowl, measure out the puffed wheat and raisins. Add the toasted oats and nuts and stir to combine. Pour the still warm sauce over top and quickly stir until the cereal, nuts and raisins are well coated.
Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and use a flat pie lifter or flipper dipped in water to press the mixture firmly into place. Bake for about 20 minutes until the sauce is bubbling. I found that the raisins on top puffed up and burned slightly, but they later deflated and the bar still tasted good.
Cool completely before cutting. Store in the fridge for up to a week.
Monday, August 13, 2007
Someday, I'd like to be able to watch The Food Network from the comfort of my own living room. In the meantime, however, I take every opportunity to watch it from the living rooms of others. The Abbott family den in Orillia is a particularly inviting spot from which to conduct marathon Food Network viewings.
During one of these sessions, over one of those Thanksgiving/Christmas/Easter family holidays, I was watching Chef At Home Michael Smith prepare a vegetarian egg dish. Adding fennel seed to the beaten eggs, he noted that people tend to associate this flavour with Italian sausage. Tuck that away and see if you're not thinking of sausage the next time you're eating something with fennel seed, because he's completely right.
As a general rule, I don't condone pretending to be something you're not. But if you're a muffin masquerading as a doughnut, then all bets are off. The muffins pictured above are premised on this idea that certain spices and herbs trigger a memory of certain foods. In this case, a dash of nutmeg is mixed into a fluffy muffin batter to evoke the flavour of a cake doughnut. A dip in melted butter and a roll in cinnamon or powdered sugar complete the disguise.
These muffins are at their peak deliciousness directly from the oven, even if it involves some hot potato-like tossing to avoid burnt fingers during the dipping process. I didn't even bother dipping the rest of the batch until I had polished off my first one!
Apparently lacking so much as a creative stirrup bone in our bodies, we always called them Muffins That Taste Like Doughnuts, a name that calls to mind that maladroitly named margarine I Can't Believe It's Not Butter.
Muffins That Taste Like Doughnuts
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup mascarpone cheese
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons milk
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 rounded teaspoon nutmeg
3-4 tablespoons butter, melted
1/3 cup sugar
2/3 teaspoon cinnamon
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and lightly grease a muffin tin or silicone muffin mould.
In a medium bowl, beat together the butter and mascarpone cheese. Add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add the egg and beat until smooth.
In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, salt and nutmeg.
Add the milk to the butter and sugar mixture, followed by the dry ingredients, and mix just until combined.
Spoon the batter into prepared muffin tins and bake for about 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. Allow muffins to cool for 5 minutes in the pan before moving them to a cooling rack.
In the meantime, prepare the topping. In one small bowl, pour the melted butter. In a second small bowl, combine the sugar and cinnamon. Once you are able to hold the muffins, dip the top of each in the first bowl of melted butter and then the second bowl of cinnamon sugar. Once dipped, place the muffins upright on the cooling rack.
Yields 6 muffins.
Notes: I've seen versions of this muffin that use icing sugar instead of cinnamon sugar, and others still that coat the entire muffin in melted butter and sugar. Pick your favourite!
Source: Cobbled together from a number of recipes floating about, including a family favourite.
Labels: Muffins and quick breads
Friday, August 10, 2007
Apple turnovers began as an excuse to try my hand at puff pastry, but by the end it was all about the apple filling. Puff pastry is one of those things that I've been meaning to make for a while, but never get around to. Let's be honest, shall we? It's not about having enough time so much as the fear of ending up with nothing but an oozing blob of unusable dough to show for an afternoon's work and a ridiculous amount of butter.
How did my puff pastry turn out in the end? It's hard to say, really.
Did the dough bake up into layer upon layer of buttery goodness? Not exactly, no.
Was the pastry flaky, tender and decadent? You bet.
Back to the filling for a minute. Don't get me wrong: I adore a classic cinnamon apple turnover, especially with a few plump Sultanas. But a little change once in awhile never hurt anyone either. The combination of maple, lime and ginger that I'm proposing may have you scratching your head at first, but one bite and you'll be preaching like the converted. Have a little faith.
Maple Lime Apple Turnovers
1/2 batch of the puff pastry recipe conveniently posted here, with a step-by-step how-to video, at Ms. Glaze's Pommes D'Amour
4 small apples, peeled and diced in 1/4-inch cubes
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon butter
3 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
Wash, peel and dice the apples into 1/4-inch cubes. Immediately add the lime zest and juice, and stir to prevent the apple from browning.
Melt the butter in a frying pan over medium heat. Add the apples, stirring to coat them in butter, followed by the maple syrup.
As soon as the mixture begins to bubble, sprinkle the ginger and cornstarch on top. Stir just until the mixture begins to thicken before removing from heat. Allow the mixture to cool until it reaches room temperature.
Note: The intention is not to cook the apples, but merely to coat them with a bit of sauce. If your apples are particularly juicy and the mixture does not seem to be thickening, sprinkle on a bit more cornstarch and stir to combine.
Roll out the puff pastry to an 1/8-inch thickness. Use a large round cookie cutter or small bowl to cut rounds in the dough.
Yields 6-8 turnovers.
Monday, August 06, 2007
Home baking was at a minimum this past weekend, after a whirlwind trip south to Marseille to enjoy the sun and heat we've been so dearly missing here in Paris. Naturally, Summer made a conspicuous appearance here in our absence, but such is life.
A few tidbits from the travel journal to tide you over while I get my kitchen groove back on.
Boats lining the Vieux Port in Marseille
Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde, built between 1853 and 1864 on the site of a 13th century chapel
The last few bites of raspberry and pistachio macarons, enjoyed clandestinely in an upstairs corner of an air-conditioned Quick Burger after a rough ride in my purse.
The only evidence of our visit to La Chocolatière du Panier, where we snagged a praline-filled rocher (pictured), un petit sac of mixed caramels (vanilla, chocolate and salted) and a wedge of white chocolate laced with ground hazelnuts and toasted coconut.
Photos: All the work of R.
Thursday, August 02, 2007
"Ouch, seriously, stop stepping on my toes. They're burned to a crisp!" said one biscotti to another.
"I feel your pain," answered the second. "I told her it was time to get out of the heat, but she wasn't having it."
OK, I feel the need to interject here with my side of the story.
It all boils down to one simple idea: multitasking. I am a big fan. Why do just one thing at a time when you could do many things at once?
Take watching TV for example. Somewhat entertaining on its own, but there's not a whole lot getting done while you sit on the couch. Let's add in a little Sudoku action during the less exciting TV moments, the ones that don't demand your full attention. See, better. Now, when the commercials come on, jump from your seat, jog to the kitchen and begin the dinner dishes. A good husband will give a shout from the couch when the TV show is about to re-start, and you'll soon develop a spidey sense for it anyways. (Note: This dishwashing component is not an option in France where all of the commercials are grouped together in a block between shows.)
But it wasn't watching TV/solving Sudoku/washing dishes that got me into trouble today. No, today's multitasking challenge involved baking biscotti in between a few loads of laundry. Having been successful at this particular combo in the past, I was not concerned.
Despite my highest hopes, the washing machine in our apartment is just that. When I asked our landlord if it was one of those dual-purpose machines that both washes and dries your clothes, he informed us in what I think was English, "No, but it centrifugates very quickly."
Riiiiight, so what does that mean? That the clothes are as good as dry?
Fortunately there is a laverie 4 doors down the street with 3 honest-to-goodness dryers, circa 1970. Initially, the laundry Nazi who oversees the comings and goings of the building was very concerned as to why we were bringing in wet clothes from outside and demanded details about our washing process. I explained that we washed the clothes in our washing machine at home, which centrifugates very quickly, and that seemed to satisfy her curiosity. Now that we've jumped through the proper hoops and established our credentials, we can actually pay to dry our clothes there. Rad.
Here's where I cut to the chase. Things all went down as expected right up until the end. While I set out down the street to retrieve and fold the last load of laundry, my biscotti were back at the ranch sunbathing their sides after a rather long-ish bake on their stomachs earlier in the morning. Just evening out their tans, really, before calling it a day. (Remember, I have a toaster oven rather than a real oven, so it clicks off when the timer finishes. No worries about burning down the building and all that.)
I failed, however, to account for the fact that everything bakes in approximately one-half the normal time in the little toaster oven. As I crossed the courtyard and neared our door, and the open kitchen window beside it, I was greeted by the scent of burning chocolate. Dropping the bag of laundry on the stoop, I fumbled for the keys and threw open the door to the terrified screams of my Double Chocolate Almond Biscotti.
That’s the real story. I’m in the process of nibbling my way through any detractors.
P.S. Did I mention that one load of washing takes 1 hour and 15 minutes? See, lots of time to make biscotti.
Double Chocolate Almond Biscotti
1 cup flour
¼ cup cocoa
¼ teaspoon baking powder
¼ heaping teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons butter, room temperature
½ cup sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla
½ cup almonds, coarsely chopped
½ cup semi-sweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla, and beat well.
Stir in the dry ingredients to form a stiff dough. Once blended, fold in the nuts and chocolate chunks.
With floured hands, form the dough into a 12-inch by 2-inch log. Flatten the log slightly on top. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until slightly firm to the touch. Remove from the oven and let cool for 15 minutes on the baking sheet. Leave your oven on for the second round of baking.
Using a very sharp, serrated knife, carefully cut the log on the diagonal into ¾-inch slices. Place the slices, cut side down, on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes or until crisp, flipping once halfway through.
Remove from the oven and cool on racks. Store in an airtight container for up to one week.
Notes: The recipe posted here could easily be doubled. Instead of forming the dough into 1 long log, form 2 of equal size.
Source: Based on a recipe for Chocolate Biscotti posted at Culinary Concoctions by Peabody. Her version was adapted from Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan.