Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Apple tart

Apple tart

The great thing about knowing how to bake (and keeping some staples in the house at all times) is that if your honey decides to make a nice dinner, while he's out in the kitchen cutting up his ingredients, you can say, "Hey, how 'bout I make a dessert?" and in a little while, presto, dessert. That was what happened here. I started with "maybe I'll make a nice dessert," and then went to "hmm, I've got some apples in the fridge that I need to use up," and a few Internet searches later, I found this recipe.

My honey ate it with some suspicion, thinking, as I had when I first saw the recipe, "apples and cream cheese???" But he liked the taste, and so did I. I think they were going for something that would be like a traditional fruit tart, with its pastry cream filling, but knowing that pastry cream would be a bit sickening with cinnamon-sugared apples, it's swapped here for a nice cream cheese filling. You wouldn't think the combination of flavors would work, but it totally does. And the nuts on top add a nice crunch.

Apple Tart
From Joy of Baking

1 c flour
1/3 c confectioners' sugar
1/2 c butter, cut into small pieces

8 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 c sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla

1/4 c sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
4 c apples, peeled and cut into slices (about 3-4 apples)

1/3 c sliced almonds

1. Mix together the flour, confectioners' sugar and butter with a pastry blender or food processor. Press it into a tart pan with a removable bottom, then put it in the fridge.
2. Cut up the apples and toss them with the cinnamon and sugar. Set aside.
3. Beat together the cream cheese, sugar, egg and vanilla in a good-sized bowl. Spread this over your crust.
4. Top with the apples. Sprinkle almonds on top.
5. Place pan on a cookie sheet, then bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes. Drop the temperature of the oven to 400 degrees and continue to bake for another 25-30 minutes, until the apples and golden and soft and the filling is set. Cool on a rack before cutting.

Pumpkin pie

Pumpkin pie

Thanksgiving is all about tradition. So when I asked if I could make the pies this year (knowing that the threatened alternative was boughten pies -- the horror!), I knew I'd better deliver something good or else I'd never hear the end of it.

I heard plenty of it anyway, though. And by "it," I mean "that's now how we do it!" As in "no, you DON'T pre-bake the crust, I NEVER do!" And "you don't have to bake the crust, the can doesn't say to!" And especially that one -- "That's not how the can says to do it!!!" Ah, the all-hallowed can. Mom was referring, of course, to the recipe on the back of the Libby's pumpkin puree can, the recipe she's used every year, and apparently, if I wasn't following that recipe, I was doing it wrong and I was going to ruin Thanksgiving.

I'm happy to say that my pies were just fine, thankyouverymuch. Nobody complained about them at all. Though I think that next time I make them, I'd probably try using light brown sugar, 'cause the dark brown gave the pies a darker color than I'm used to and a bit of molasses flavor that, well, it wasn't bad, not at all, but I'm not used to that, either. Tradition, dontchaknow.

But am I making them next year? Doubtful. I'll leave Mom to her crust-in-a-box (*shudder*) and her sacred back-of-the-can recipe and take on some other part of the meal instead.

Pumpkin Pie
From Cook's Illustrated

One pie crust (I used half of this crust recipe)
2 c pumpkin puree
1 c brown sugar (the recipe calls for dark -- I might use light next time)
2 tsp ginger
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 c heavy cream
2/3 c milk
4 eggs

1. Prebake your pie shell at 375 degrees, lined with foil and weighted down, for about 25 minutes on the lower rack of your oven. Remove foil and weights and bake 5 or so minutes more, until light golden.
2. Meanwhile, as the crust is baking, mix the pumpkin, sugar, spices and salt in a large saucepan and bring to a sputtering simmer. Cook about 5 minutes.
3. When the crust comes out of the oven, move the oven rack to its lowest position and turn up the oven to 400 degrees.
4. Whisk the cream and milk into the pumpkin and bring to a bare simmer.
5. In a bowl, whisk the eggs. Then, slowly whisk in a bit of the pumpkin. Continue adding a bit more at a time until the egg mixture is warm. Then, slowly whisk it into the rest in the pan.
6. Pour filling into pie shell. Bake about 25 minutes, until filling is puffed dry-looking and lightly cracked around the edges. Cool on rack before serving.

Chocolate gingersnap tart

Chocolate tart

Thanksgiving this year presented a challenge, in that not only did I overextend myself for my parents' holiday, but my boyfriend was going to spend the holiday with his parents instead and was wondering if I could whip something up for him to contribute to the holiday table. It had to be something sort of holiday-ish, fancy enough for a holiday dinner, but it also had to be something that would keep in the fridge for a couple of days, 'cause I was already booked up in the days before Thanksgiving with making pies for my parents' dinner.

And then, I came across this recipe. It's holiday-ish, in that it has a gingersnap crust and ginger is a good fall/winter holiday flavor, and everybody loves deep, rich chocolate. Plus, tarts always look fancy, even if they're simple, and this one's pretty easy to put together. And it kept just fine in the fridge for a few days, too. The only thing I didn't like about this was how the crust came out, 'cause this is another of the umpteen recipes that calls for a food processor, and I don't have one, so I couldn't get the crumbs as small as I'd have liked.

I'd advise you to keep the slices tiny when serving this. The filling is like a truffle, super-rich, so you probably won't want a whole lot of it.

Chocolate Gingersnap Tart
From Smitten Kitchen

8 oz gingersnap cookies (about 32 cookies), pounded (or food-processed) into crumbs
1/4 c butter, melted
Pinch of salt
12 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped (60% cacao; use chips if you can find them)
1 c heavy cream
2 egg yolks
1 egg
1/4 c sugar
1 tbsp flour
1/8 tsp pepper
Pinch of salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon

1. Pound or process the cookies into crumbs. Add the butter and salt and mix until moistened. Press into the bottom and sides of a tart pan with removable sides. Place pan on a baking sheet.
2. Whisk together the eggs, sugar, flour, pepper, salt and cinnamon in a medium bowl.
3. In another bowl, cook the chocolate and cream together in the microwave until just melted, then whisk together to combine.
4. Slowly whisk the chocolate into the egg mixture. Pour mixture into crust.
5. Bake at 325 degrees for about 30 minutes, until the edges puff and the center is set. Cool on rack 20 minutes, then remove sides of pan and cool completely before cutting.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Pumpkin bread

Pumpkin bread

You'd think I would have learned my lesson about pan size from the ill-fated apple bread, and y'know, I did, or I thought I did. After that fiasco, in which I only had 8-by-4 pans and the recipe called for 9-by-5s, I thought, y'know, 9-by-5 is a more common loaf size, so I might as well buy a pair of those, just to have for the next time.

So when I decided to make pumpkin bread, I figured I was all set. I've got the most common size, 9-by-5. And I've got the other, less-common size, 8-by-4. I've got two of each, which is about how many loaves any recipe is likely to make. I was all set, right? Yeah, no. 'Cause this recipe, as if trying to mock me personally, calls for three pans, and they're 7-by-3. 7-by-3??? Do they even make 7-by-3 loaf pans??? I've never seen one. It was hard enough for me even to find the 8-by-4 ones. I've never even heard of 7-by-3.

But I was determined to make pumpkin bread, and this recipe sounded the most promising, so I soldiered on. I ended up with two 8-by-4 loaves, which were a little overdone on the outside, 'cause I had to ensure that the insides were done all the way. And I broke in my new mini-loaf pan with the leftover batter, producing three little loaves that actually came out perfectly (and they're delicious, too!). Next time, maybe I'll just make a couple of batches of the minis.

Pumpkin Bread
Recipe from AllRecipes

3 1/2 c flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp ginger
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree
4 eggs
1 c oil
2/3 c water
3 c sugar

1. Whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger.
2. In another, larger bowl, beat together the pumpkin, eggs, oil, water and sugar. Beat in the dry ingredients just until combined.
3. Pour batter into greased and floured pans (though I didn't bother with either in my nonstick mini-loaf pan, and they came out fine). Bake at 350 for 50 minutes for three 7-by-3 loaves (if you can actually find those pans), or less time for minis (mine took around 30 minutes) -- they'll be done when a toothpick in the center comes out clean.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Biscuit quest


I am on a quest. A quest, for the Holy Grail... of biscuits. And sadly, this is not them, either.

Granted, these aren't bad. If you wanted to slather some salted butter on them, or pour gravy over them, they'd be divine. They're nice and soft and light and have a nice tang of buttermilk.

But sometimes, you want the bad stuff. Sometimes, you know you can make French fries in your oven from real potatoes, but you just want the ones from McDonald's, even though you know how bad they are for you. And sometimes... well, sometimes you want biscuits so good that they don't need gravy, or honey, or butter, or anything at all.

I'm talking about the power duo of horribly-unhealthy, ridiculously-delicous biscuits: KFC and Cracker Barrel. Say what you want about their food or its nutritional value -- those biscuits are heaven. But despite my repeated attempts, I just can't figure out how to make them myself, from scratch. Is it the chemicals and preservatives that makes them so good? I don't know. My quest continues.

In the meantime, I'll share these, 'cause they're still pretty decent biscuits, as long as you're planning to put something on them. They're good. They're just not great.

Adapted from AllRecipes

2 c flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
Dash of salt
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 c butter, slightly softened and cut into pieces
3/4 c buttermilk

1. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
2. Mix in the buttermilk and knead the dough just until it comes together.
3. Pat the dough out onto a floured surface until it's about an inch or so thick, then cut with a 2-inch biscuit cutter (or the rim of a glass, if you don't have a cutter).
4. Place on a cookie sheet and bake at 400 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes, until the tops are barely browned and the bottoms are golden.