Slightly Cheaper Than Therapy

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Mirror, mirror… July 23, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — slightlycheaperthantherapy @ 2:33 pm

Last year, in a fit of pre-holiday insanity/enthusiasm, I decided that I was a Daring Baker.  Turns out I wasn’t.  At least not the organized kind.  I think I made one or two recipes and then dropped out when they decided to bake Buche de Noels.  All I can say is…marzipan mushrooms.  ICK.  Plus it looked like waaaaay more work than I was willing to do in between the rest of my holiday baking. 

Still the notion of pushing my baking skills beyond their current levels was compelling.  Enough so that I purchased a copy of Tartine and (quietly) vowed to make at least 3/4 of the recipes in it.  If you’re not familiar with this book, pastry experts have lauded it as an instant classic both for its use of age-old, artisan techniques and its modern twists on French standards.  And the recipes are so detailed and easy to follow any dolt can make the treats (though this dolt had a hard time making them look pretty).

My head-long dive into this book started with the notion of making croissants–probably the hardest recipe in the book.  After reading and re-reading the recipe, I discovered that I should probably build up my repertoire a bit before tackling this difficult bread.  So I opted for the eclairs instead.  In their fried form, they are my most favoritest donut ever (aside from a warm glazed Krispy Kreme).  But I’ve seen and tasted the more traditional varieties enough to have a good idea of what my final product should look like. (The one flaw of Tartine is the lack of pictures.  I’d say less than half of the recipes have photos to accompany them.)

So when I ended up with this, I was a little disappointed:

Looking back I think my two fatal flaws were: 

1.  Not using the right pastry tip.  The book called for a #6 or #7 (~ 1/2″) tip.  I went by the tip numbers, rather than the size guestimation.  And in the words of the wise knight in the Last Crusade:  “You chose…poorly.”  I think this may be a misprint in the book, because #6 and 7 tips are only about 1/4″.  Maybe they meant 16 or 17?  I dunno.  Regardless, they did not give me the 1″ wide dough blobs (working on my culinary vocab is also a goal) that the recipe said I should end up with.  My solution was to work back and forth in an elongated and sideways “S” till I got my 1″ in width.  Yeah, not such a good idea.  While the choux paste is (as the book says) very forgiving, you still need a seamless blob of dough to create the hollow shell needed to hold the filling.  Which brings me to #2.

2.  The pastry cream.  First this stuff is deeeeeeeeeeevine.  You might be tempted to forget the rest of the recipe and eat this stuff with a spoon, but keep at it.  The end result is worth it.  Anyway, the recipe says you can store it in the fridge for up to five days.  Which I did.  But the kink in my plan came when I discovered that the cream hadn’t completely cooled before I put it in the fridge.  So when I unwrapped it later, there was a bit of water standing on the top.  Like a complete moron I just mixed that right into the cream, creating pastry soup.  I’m not kidding.  This stuff was so runny that it ran out the end of my pastry bag.  The Hubby kept asking if everything was okay as I shouted obscenities from the kitchen. 

All in all, my first attempt at a Tartine recipe wasn’t a complete disaster.  I mean they were edible.  But they were u-g-l-y, and the centers didn’t have filling (because of the lack of hollow-ness and a strong enough cream to push through the dough).  Lessons were definitely learned–namely that anything with pastry cream is worth eating, no matter how shameful its presentation. 

Eclairs
Tartine

Choux Paste:
1/2 c. nonfat milk
1/2 c. water
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 c. unsalted butter
1 c. all-purpose flour
5 large eggs

Glaze:
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, coarsley chopped
1 tbsp. light corn syrup
1/2 c. heavy cream

Filling:
1 1/4 c. pastry cream, cold (recipe below)

Preheat oven to 425F.  Butter a baking sheet or line with parchment paper.

In a heavy saucepan, combine the milk, water, salt, sugar, and butter and place over medium heat until the butter melts and the mixture comes to a full boil.  Add the flour all at once, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon.  Keep stirring until the mixture has formed a smooth mass and pulls away from the sides of the pan and some of the moisture has evaporated.  This will take about 3 minutes.

Transfer to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or to a heatproof mixing bowl.  If using a mixer, add the eggs one at a time and mix on medium-high speed, incorporating each egg before adding the next.  When all the eggs have been added, the mixture will be thick, smooth and shiny.  If making by hand, add the eggs one at a time and mix with a wooden spoon, incorporating each egg before adding the next. 

Transfer the contents of the bowl to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain tip, adding only as much to the bag as is comfortable to work with.  Pipe out fingers about 5 inches long and 1 inch wide, spacing them about 2 inches apart.  If you end up with a bulge or “tail” at the end of the piping, you can smooth it over with a damp fingertip.

Bake until puffed and starting to show some color, about 10 minutes.  Reduce the oven temperature to 375F and continue to bake until the shells feel light for their size and are hollow inside, about 12 minutes longer.  They should be nicely browned all over.  Remove from the oven and, using a metal skewer, poke a small hole n the end of each shell to allow steam to escape.  This keeps the shells from collapsing.  Let cool on wire racks.  They should be used as soon as they are cool enough to fill.  You can also wrap them airtight and freeze them for up to 3 weeks.  When you are ready to fill them, recrisp them directly from the freezer in a 450F oven for about 10 minutes and then let cool before filling.

(See how pretty they looked in the oven?  Also, check out the reflection of my awesome apron that Melanie made me.  :o) )

To make the glaze, combine the chocolate and corn syrup in a heatproof bowl.  Bring the cream to just under a boil in a small sauce pan.  Pour the cream over the chocolate.  Let the mixture sit for about 2 minutes without stirring until the chocolate melts, and then stir gently with a rubber spatula (so as to incorporate as little air as possible) until smooth and shiny.  Let cool until just warm.

To fill and glaze the eclaires, stir the pastry cream (it must be very cold) until smooth and then spoon the cream into a pastry bag fitted with a plain tip with a very small opening.  It is easiest to start with a hole in each end of the shell and to fill from both ends if necessary.  Sometimes pockets inside the shell prevent the pastry cream from filling the entire shell from a single hole.  Fill the shells until they feel heavy.  To glaze the eclaires, dip the top of each filled eclair into the glaze, shaking gently to allow the excess to drip off, and then place upwright on a wire rack and allow the glaze to set. 

You can alternately fill the shells by splitting them in half with a serrated knife.  Dip the top half in glaze, allowing the excess to drip off, and then place upright on a wire rack and allow the glaze to set.  Spoon the pastry cream into the bottoms of the shells and replace the glazed tops. 

Serve the pastries at once, or refrigerate for up to 6 hours before serving.  They should be eaten the same day they are filled.

Pastry Cream
Tartine

(This stuff is really worth all the effort and then some.  It would be a supurb addition to fresh berries…ooh or even peaches.  Mmmm…)

2 c. whole milk
1/2 of a vanilla bean
1/4 tsp. salt
3 tbsp. cornstarch
1/2 c. + 1 tbsp sugar
2 large eggs
4 tbsp unsalted butter

Have a bowl ready for cooling the pastry cream with a fine mesh sieve resting in the rim.

(Or if you’re ghetto fabulous like me, use your sifter.   Though I think the sieve would’ve worked MUCH better.)

Pour the milk into a heavy sauce pan.  Split the vanilla bean half lengthwise and use the tip of a sharp knife to scrape the seeds from the pod halves into the milk.  Add the salt, place over medium-high heat, and bring to just under a boil, stirring occasionally and making sure that the milk solids are not sticking to the bottom of the pan.  The larger the batch, the more careful you’ll have to be.

Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and sugar.  Add the eggs and whisk until smooth.

When the milk is ready, slowly ladle about one-third of the hot milk into the egg mixture, whisking constantly.  Pour the egg-milk mixture back into the hot milk and continue whisking over medium heat until the custard is as thick as lightly whipped cream, about 2 minutes.  In order for the cornstarch to cook and thicken fully, the mixture must come just to the boiling point.  You want to see a few slow bubbles.  However, if the cream is allowed to boil vigorously, you will curdle the pastry cream.  Remove from heat and immediately pour through the sieve into the bowl.  (If the custard stays in the hot pot, it will continue to cook.)  Let cool for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to release the heat and prevent a skin from forming on top.

Cut the butter into 1-tablespoon pieces.  When the pastry cream is ready (it should be about 140F), whisk the butter into the pastry cream 1 tablespoon at a time, always whisking until smooth before adding the next table spoon.

To cool the cream, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap directly onto the top of the cream (the plastic wrap prevents a skin from forming on the surface).  To cool it very quickly, place it in a shallow dish and press plastic wrap directly on top.  Be careful whisking the cream once it is cold.  Overmixing will break down the starch and thin the cream.  Pastry cream will keep, well covered, in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

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What’s a stick of butter between friends? July 14, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — slightlycheaperthantherapy @ 7:50 pm

(No the cake isn’t lop-sided.  The icing’s just that heavy.)

If you’ve kept up with my on-again off-again blogging (and bless you if you have), then you’ll know that I frequently use my book club as an excuse to make whatever delicious dessert recipe that has crossed my path.  I really shouldn’t, because someone or usually several someones are “watching what they eat.”  I shouldn’t tempt these healthy eaters with fatty, sugary goodness.  No, if I were smart I would take a page out of their books (pun completely intended) and stick to healthful options.  But that is no fun.  At all.  I mean seriously guys, these desserts are begging to be made.  And if I were to make these delicious desserts and keep them at my house…well, let’s just say my rear end would put Mimi to shame.  And that would not be fun for me (or the Hubby).  At all.

So I do what any self-serving baker would do.  I haul my hip-enlarging desserts to someone else’s house!  And really, once we’ve all had a piece, there’s not a lot of leftovers lurking around to seriously sabotage any diets.  Or at least that’s what I tell myself in order to keep a clear conscience.  But ya’ll I really did a few people in at the last meeting. 

See, my week was all crazy-go-nuts, and I didn’t have time to make the cake and ice it the night before the meeting.  I was really worried that if the icing sat for more than 24 hours it would start making the cake soggy.  The solution I came up with was to make the cake on Sunday while I had the time and then ice it Tuesday morning for the meeting later that night.  Not the best option, but it would have to do.  Well, that is the last time I do that.  See in my bleary-eyed state I could have SWORN that 1 stick of butter was 1/4 c.  This recipe called for 1/2 c. so I needed two, right?  You see where I’m going with this.  The good news is the icing ended up tasting great…I mean what wouldn’t with a whole freakin’ cup of butter in it.  But the bad news is the cake was reaaaaaaaaaally bad (for you, not tasting).  I didn’t have the heart to tell my book club buddies at the time, so here’s hoping they don’t read this and ban me from future meetings. 

Lime Soda Cake

1 package of yellow cake mix
1 package of instant coconut pudding
10 oz. of lime soda (Use the Mexican variety if you can find it.  Everything else is full of corn syrup.  Bleh.)
3/4 c. vegetable oil
4 eggs

Frosting
1 1/2 c. sugar
2/3 c. flour
2 egg yolks
1 c. flaky coconut
1/2 c. of butter (in case you missed it that would be ONE stick, but if you have a super metabolism 2 doesn’t screw it up)
15 oz. crushed pineapple in juice, NOT drained (definitely do not use the kind in heavy syrup)

Combine cake mix, pudding mix, lime soda and oil.  Mix well.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition.  Pour into a greased 9×13 pan.  Bake at 350F for 45-50 minutes.  Cover with foil immediately after taking out of the oven and keep sealed until cool or ready to be iced.

For the icing, mix sugar, flour and pineapple in a sauce pan until flour is moistened.  Stir in egg yolks, coconut and butter.  Cook until very thick.  Spread over cake while both are hot.

*If you want to be saucy, add a bit of rum to the icing once it’s finished cooking.

 

Quiche July 10, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — slightlycheaperthantherapy @ 9:01 pm

Do you ever put off doing something you know is so completely easy and painless?  Like getting your eyebrows waxed.  It takes all of 10 minutes and the pain (once you’ve done it a time or two) is barely more than an annoyance.  Then once you’ve got beautiful, shapely brows you wonder why in the world you procrastinated in the first place.  Yeah, I knew you’d understand.  🙂

And that’s kind of how I feel about my quiche.  It is so easy to make, and if you arm yourself with the right ingredients it’s actually quite healthy.  Not to mention how freakin’ good it tastes.  Yet every time I buy my quiche ingredients they sit in the fridge for at least a week before I ever get around to putting them together.  Case in point:  I made the quiche pictured below about a week after buying everything.  But the second pie crust (because they always come in twos) has been sitting in my freezer for.ev.er.  Or at least it seems like it.  Every time I open the freezer the angelic cook on my shoulder says “Seriously, just make it already before that crust gets freezer burned,” and the devilish cook says, “Dude!  Have you checked out ICanHasCheezburger today?” and I’m off to laugh at stupid cats and their misspelled thoughts.  (Yes, I am that easily distracted.  Don’t tell my boss.)  It makes no sense, really.

So here are the results from my first quiche in this batch.  Do give it a try (even if it is a month from now), because this is a great way to pre-make your lunch for a week and get a good serving of veggies in, too.  Now if I can stay off PostSecret long enough to make #2…

Polly’s Quiche

1 cup of milk (2%, skim, soy, whatever)
2 eggs
2 EggBeaters equivilant to 2 eggs*
1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon of white pepper
1/4 teaspoon of salt
dash of nutmeg
6-8 oz. 2% Colby Jack Cheese, shredded
1 10 oz. (block) of frozen chopped spinach, thawed & drained
1-3 Baby Bellas (portobello) mushrooms, thinly sliced (use as many as you like)
1 Deep Dish Frozen Pie Shell (I’m digging a whole wheat version I recently found at Central Market, but Pet-Ritz is a good brand.)

Thaw and drain the frozen spinach, making sure most of the moisture is gone.  Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350F.  In a large bowl mix milk, eggs/eggbeaters and spices.  Take pie crust directly from freezer and pour cheese into bottom.  Top with drained spinach and sliced mushrooms.  Pour egg mixture over top and bake for 1-1.5 hours.  Top will be firm and set, not jiggly.

*If you’re not worrying about calories go ahead and use 4 real eggs instead of 2 & 2.  But do not use less than 2.  It just starts to taste weird once you get down to less than 2 real eggs.

 

Summer’s goodness. July 9, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — slightlycheaperthantherapy @ 9:17 pm

Well folks, I’m back to baking (and blogging) again.  I’d put it off in hopes that my hips might shrink a bit.  But I missed my KitchenAid mixer too dang much to stay away from the sweet stuff.  Since it’s summer time, I’m finding myself using a lot of fruit.  Everything so fresh and ripe and wonderful it’s hard not to want to incorporate it into every dish that makes its way out of my kitchen.

This cake comes from Bon Appetit and (remarkably) isn’t that difficult or labor intensive.  The addition of cornmeal gives this cake a kind of “down home” feel.   It would make a fantastic dessert for your next backyard BBQ.  (In fact, now that I think of it, this would make a great substitute for that yummy, though often over-used, Strawberry Shortcake. )  But don’t worry…this isn’t cornbread-ish at all.  It’s just…different.  Definitely not your regular vanilla cake.  The balsamic vinegar in the cherries lends a more complex air to the simple base.  It lingers on the tongue every so subtly, enhancing the flavor of the cherries rather than overpowering it.

Cherry Cornmeal Upside Down Cake
From Bon Appetit

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, divided
1/4 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
3 cups whole pitted fresh Bing cherries or other dark sweet cherries (about 21 ounces whole unpitted cherries)*
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup yellow cornmeal (preferably stone-ground medium grind)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs, separated
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup whole milk
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Position rack in center of oven; preheat to 350°F. Combine 1/4 cup butter with brown sugar and vinegar in 10- to 11-inch ovenproof skillet with 2-inch-high sides. Stir over medium heat until butter melts and sugar dissolves, about 2 minutes. Increase heat to high; add cherries and bring to boil.** Remove from heat.

Whisk flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt in medium bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat 1/2 cup butter in large bowl. Add sugar; beat until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in egg yolks and vanilla. Add flour mixture alternately with milk in 2 additions each, beating just until blended and occasionally scraping down sides of bowl. Using clean dry beaters, beat egg whites in another medium bowl until foamy. Add cream of tartar and beat until whites are stiff but not dry. Using rubber spatula, fold 1/4 of whites into batter to lighten slightly. Fold in remaining whites in 3 additions (batter will be thick). Spoon batter over cherries in skillet, then spread evenly with offset spatula to cover cherries.

Bake cake until top is golden brown and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Cool in skillet on rack 5 minutes. Run spatula around edges of cake to loosen. Place large serving platter upside down atop skillet. Using pot holders or oven mitts, firmly hold platter and skillet together and invert. Leave skillet atop cake 5 minutes. Remove skillet. If necessary, rearrange any cherries that may have become dislodged. Let cake cool at least 45 minutes. Cut cake into wedges and serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

*Because I am a big lazy and I have more interesting things I like to do on a Saturday (like beating the pants off of my friends at online quiz games!), I used frozen pitted cherries.  They worked just fine for me.

**And since I used the aforementioned frozen cherries, I ended up with a lot more juice than I should have in my pan.  So I let it boil down for a while.  Turns out this was a mistake because the cake was missing a good amount of the sauce that BA shows in their photos of it.  :o(  Moral of the story:  embrace the juice!