Sunday, November 30, 2008

Sugar Cream Pie: The Evolution of a Recipe

When Tyler and I met and he started bringing me home to his parent's house, it was a bit awkward. That very first time started with us sitting down to a pot roast with potatoes, carrots and some dessert. I don't think it was sugar cream pie, but it might have been since his family is where I learned about this fantastic decadence filled pie shell.

Before Tyler and I moved out West, we used to go to his parent's house every Sunday, where his mom would make a pot roast or chicken and dumplings (noodle style) or some other easy to prepare, Sunday-day-of-rest appropriate dinner. The meal would be followed with football or rodeo or other Sunday-day-of-rest appropriate TV show. We would NOT talk about politics or religion. No good could come from those conversations. But those were wonderful visits that I remember and miss.

To this day I'm not sure if anything beats a Wick's Sugar Cream Pie. Those things were addictive and worth gluttonous onslaughts. I would sneak a small sliver for myself before the rest was served so I could get two portions, and even then, I would cut a big piece for my real serving. They are good, and I am willing to say they are the best store bought pie I have ever had - and possibly better than any homemade sugar cream pie I have ever had. Yes - big claims!

But, there is no Wick's in New Mexico. In fact, not one single customer had heard of this type of pie when I sold them this year. They would ask what it was and I would just say in a very slow, deliberate manner, "They have sugar (pause) and cream (pause). That's about it."

Tyler asked his mom for her recipe, which was an evolution of her mom's recipe. I'll provide both below. Grandma Meeks' recipe calls for the cream, sugar and flour to be mixed together, poured in a pie shell and sprinkled with nutmeg. That's all. But, about one out of three pies wouldn't set up. The flour would settle near the bottom causing a runny pie - still, a very good runny pie.

So Tyler's mom tapped into more modern techniques. She added some half-n-half to the recipe for more moisture, then microwaved the mixture prior to pouring into the pan, to give the liquid a head start since it needs to come to a boil in order to set up. This is the pie I know and love.

But I'm a gourmet store owner. I sold Tyler's mom's version, and people loved it. But for our personal Thanksgiving, I wanted to add some flavor depth and complexity. Enter my evolution.

I had two thoughts. First, white sugar is pretty linear in its flavor profile. But, caramelizing that sugar would add the flavors I sought, and would not effect the structure. Second, I have access to palm sugar which is just the cow's meow. So here are the three recipes:

Grandma Meeks' Sugar Cream Pie
Oven to 425F
2 C. Heavy Cream
1/2 C. Sugar
5 T. Flour
Pinch of Salt

Combine all three ingredients, pour in unbaked pie shell. Sprinkle with nutmeg. Bake for 15 minutes, then turn oven to 350F. Cook until set. Expect pie to boil over.

Margie Connor's Sugar Cream Pie
Oven to 425F
2 C. Heavy Cream
1/2 C. Half-n-Half
1/2 C. Sugar
5 T. Flour
Pinch of Salt

Combine all ingredients in a glass bowl or large measuring cup. Microwave in one minute blasts on high until liquid becomes hot, but not boiling. Pour into baked pie shell. Sprinkle with nutmeg and bake for 5-10 minutes, then lower to 350F. Bake until set.

My Sugar Cream Pie (Tyler called it a Dulce de Leche Pie)
2 C. Heavy Cream
1/2 C. Whole Milk
1/4 C. Sugar
1/4 C. Muscovado (or dark brown sugar)
4 T. Palm Sugar (I used coconut palm sugar)
5 T. Flour
Pinch of Salt

Put the three sugars in a small sauce pan with just a couple of tablespoons of the cream. Heat until melted and starting to caramelize. Don't take this much further than it starting to darken. On the heat, whisk the remaining cream and milk into the caramel, and continue whisking until it is all melted and combined - it should hav ea nice caramel color at this point. Combine remaining ingredients with the caramel milk. Microwave in one minute blasts on high until liquid becomes hot and slightly thickened, but not boiling, whisking after each increment. Pour into baked pie shell. Sprinkle with freshly grated nutmeg and bake for 5 minutes, then lower to 350F. Bake until set.

So that's the evolution of the Meeks/Connor/Connoley Sugar Cream Pie recipe. It may continue to evolve throughout the season. Tyler very much liked the tamer sweetness of my version, but didn't consider it a sugar cream. I liked the sweetness of his mom's recipe, but the complexity of my own. In the end, I'm sure none is as good as Grandma Meeks' version, but we all are thankful for her recipe.

Hooiser Sugar Cream Pie (Dulce de Leche Pie)

This is my evolution of the classic Sugar Cream pie ...

See Hooiser Sugar Cream Pie (Dulce de Leche Pie) on Key Ingredient.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Hot chocolate - a timeline for disaster!

I'm typing this during our city's lighted holiday parade. This morning I thought..."I'll make hot chocolate for the parade." Good idea right? Well, maybe. Except I would do it from ganache and thin it with hot milk/cream (and a bit of habañero). Here's the timeline:

6:30 Makes ganache and heats enough milk for two mugs
6:45 First customer asks for hot chocolate
6:48 Second customers order for 3 people
6:49 Third customer orders for 2
6:51 Fourth customer orders for 1...Rob starts to panic as he scrambles to make more ganache and heat more milk/cream
6:52 Fifth customer orders for 10!...Rob poops on the floor from shock
6:53 Rob runs out to the counter and yells sold out to the grumbles coming from the line of customer

7:12 Rob gets caught up on orders, says he can make one else wants any

Thanks universe - lesson learned. Be prepared.

Recent dinners

A slice of my day old boulè topped with wilted spinach, black colossal olives, mozzarella and an amazing gouda gifted from Klary Koopman (linked to the left).

Pork chop, pan sauteed and reduced with white wine, garlic smashed potatoes. The pork was part of one of our 4-H animals. Pork never photographs well, does it.

Menu del Dia: Ternasco Asado

Tyler prepared this lamb steak coated with fresh rosemary and potatoes (pages 80-81). This meal epitomizes the purpose of the book - basic, daily fare. The potatoes were very good, and the lamb alright. My problem with the lamb was more my lack of preference for lamb meat. I think I've only had lamb a few times - one was a rack at a cheese club party, and the others are long forgotten. The recipe called for a roast, but I brought home a steak since I didn't want to spend too much.

The lamb is a locally raised 4-H animal that I bought at our county fair a couple of months ago. I chronicled my experience of looking my food in the eyes here. I'm well beyond where I was when I wrote those words, and now am very eager and satisfied buying locally raised meat - especially 4-H meat which was cared for by a child.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Torta de Aciete - Round Two

A couple of days ago I tried these again, but this time with LeBlanc hazelnut oil instead of olive oil. I wanted to see if aging the dough would help. It didn't seem to, but they were still very good, and so I filled a couple with ganache (as I'm wont to do).

Thanksgiving Meal

It was so incredibly nice to have Tyler prepare the meal this year - and it was outstanding. I'll keep my comments brief since there are some topics I want to share about specific things, which I'll do over the weekend. So here we go.

We shared the meal with new friends, John & Alysha, and Reneè, who has had us over to her house for Thanksgiving the past four years. It was a bit scary to have people over to our house since the house has been neglected ever since we opened our store. Now, everyone says they don't want people to see their mess, but really, we have a hole in the floor of our bathroom, among many other problems. Someday we'll have the time and money to get this house in order. Until then, you need to be a good, very good friend to cross our threshold.

Buy cyber friends can always enter (we'll photoshop out the bad stuff!). Here's our meal.

You'll recognize this as the boulè I made for our meal.

Gordo and Hordelian olives with Cabecou goat cheese - very strong and very creamy.

Pont L`Eveque with corichons and pickled garlic (isn't it great having a gourmet store!)

Ginger carrot soup from John & Alysha. They were worried because they added habañero, but we all liked it.

Tyler prepared this beautiful ham. The ham will be a later post because its one of the animals we bought from our local 4-H kids.

Pumpkin pie with cognac.

My version of a Hoosier Sugar Cream Pie (more on this later this weekend). This was all accompanied by lots of cheap wine, pomegranate mixers (Thanks PomWonderful!), as well as salad, cauliflower gratin and other stuff that wasn't photographable. The only thing missing was our families...maybe next year.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

After baking nearly 40 pies, cheesecakes and baklawa, I'm resting. Once the word got out, everything I pulled from the oven sold before I even had it labeled. The very last hanger-on was an extra scrap of baklawa that I made for a Lebanese customer. With only 2 minutes before close, in walks the last victim...I mean customer! She needed raspberry flavoring (which I happily shared with her from my personal stash), and out she walked with a beautiful box of freshly made wholewheat baklawa (75% pistachio). Lucky her, and lucky me. This morning I'll do just a bit of baking for us, and then get back at it tomorrow. Thanks to all who enjoy my food either in their mouths or on their computer screens.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

TGRWT #12: Chanterelle and apricot

This month's "They Go Really Well Together" from Khymos and hosted by Tri-2-Cook is Chanterelles and Apricots. Not too exotic, but causing many to abandon the challenge due to the lack of fresh ingredients. But I say - Gafaw! I submit for my fellow TGRWTers: Chanterelle & Roasted Chestnut Daquoise with Apricot Chestnut Oil Pudding and Apricot Chantilly.

I'll pass on the recipes for this round and cut right to the chase...My star taster, and crack employee, John (former long-time resident of France; serious foodie; world traveller; heart surgeon instructor; downright nice guy) absolutely loved it. He said, "I first had the earthy taste from the mushrooms, which was followed with the sweet fruitiness of the apricot, and a lingering finish of the earthiness again." "A real winner!"

With that success, I brought one home to Tyler. After his nose unwrinkled, and he started breathing again, he mildly expressed his dislike. Actually he claimed it was my second worst dessert ever (the first being the infamous rose water incident of 2006). I may have confounded the problem by using that pesky roasted chestnut flour. It is so strong that it taints any food that I put it in, and neither Tyler nor I have really enjoyed it much (the scones with white chocolate being the exception).

Two technical notes worthy of sharing. First, lacking fresh chanterelles, I used organic dried chanterelles. I simply pulverized them and treated them as part of my nut flour going into the daquoise. No adjustments were necessary, and the flavor was strong but not dominant. Second, the pudding was a play on the Alinea olive oil pudding. I essentially used the same recipe, except I added kamerdine syrup, and then used chestnut oil instead of olive oil. I liked it quite a bit. Tyler did not. I'll defer to John's assessment to keep my ego afloat!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Work in Progress: Torta de Aciete (Olive Oil Crisp)

I've recently been trying to replicate the Matiz brand Olive Oil crisps that we sell at the store. The tortas are amazing, but at $1 per crisp, are a bit pricey.

The goal is an ultra-crisp, delicate wafer that isn't cakey or doughy. It is a very simple food that comes in both sweet and savory. I've come fairly close using a recipe provided by Andiesenji over at eG.

Olive-Oil Crisps

1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons AP flour
1/4 cup sesame seeds
3 tablespoons sugar, plus more for sprinkling
1 tablespoon anise seeds
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 t salt
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 c plus 2 tablespoons ice water
2 large egg whites, beaten until foamy

Oven to 400F

In electric mixer bowl (with paddle attachments) mix flour, sesame seeds, sugar, anise seeds, baking power & salt on low, until just combined.

In small bowl combine olive oil & water, add to flour mix.

Beat on low until just combined, scrape down sides of bowl. Shape a 1 1/2 tablespoon of dough into a ball. Place 2 to 6 balls at a time on a piece of parchment, at least 5" apart and cover with another piece of parchment. Roll out into very thin rounds between the parchment sheets. Transfer dough with parchment to a baking sheet. Lift off top piece of parchment. Generously brush with egg white & sprinkle with sugar.

Bake, rotating sheets halfway through, at which point, I brushed with a ginger syrup, and continue baking until they are brown at edges & in spots on top. This should take about 6 - 8 minutes. Cool on wire rack.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Recipe: Pomegranate Green Tea Brownies w/ Piñon

My second entry in the POM Wonderful Recipe contest - Pomegranate Green Tea Brownies w/ Piñon. This is a fun contest that I found at The Foodie BlogRoll (see bar at left).

Prep time: 10 minutes. Start to finish: 1 hour
Oven to 325 F
Butter a 9x13 pan.

Melt 1 C. (230 g) of unsalted butter in saucepan on stove (you can microwave it also).
Add 1 C. (230 g) of dark chocolate
Remove pan from heat and let sit one minute.
Stir the chocolate until it is melted.
Add 1 3/4 C. (400 g) Sugar, 2 T. Matcha Green Tea powder and 4 whole eggs to the chocolate mixture.
Stir until just completely combined - not more.
Add 1 t. Vanilla and 1/4 C. POM Wonderful pomegranate juice.

Add 1/2 C. (100 g) of All-Purpose flour, don't stir yet.
I add 1/2 t. of salt.

Add 3/4 C. (200 g) Toasted piñon and the seeds from one fresh POM Wonderful pomegranate.
And finally, 2/3 C. (140 g) of chocolate - I use 64% Cacao Barry Guayaquil. Just get as close to that percentage as you can to provide the contrast to the 75%, and you can also go to a lower percentage if you want.

Bake around 45 minutes or until set.

Once they are done, bring to room temp, then set in the fridge until cool.

Finally for the frosting. Take 1/2 C. of fresh POM Wonderful pomegranate juice. Microwave it for 90 seconds or until you see it just start to boil. Add enough white chocolate chips to completely cover the boiling juice, and whisk until fully incorporated. If it seems too thin, add a few more chips (It will be runny until it is chilled). Pour the frosting over the brownie allowing the sides of the brownie to dam the liquid. Chill until set and enjoy!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Menu del Dia: Braised Oxtails

As promised, here is another meal cooked from the new cookbook, Menu del Dia (reviewed here). Last night we jumped in with a rather lengthy meal of three dishes.

First was the Patatas con Chorizo (p. 47). Potatoes, onion, garlic, chorizo, and dried peppers - we used Nora peppers since we had just received them from our Spanish distributor. Covered with water and boiled down until soft. I'm a potato fan so these were very good to me with the delicate potatoes providing the comforting fill, with the occasional zest of the chorizo. I'm not sure that I can identify the taste of the nora as it tasted like any other mild pepper to me (pequin, arbol, etc.).

Next we had the Espinacas a la Catalana (Spinach with pine nut and raisin) (p. 51). We've made similar dishes many times before, and greens are always a hit in our house. The ratio of nuts and raisins to greens was very nice in this dish. We used our peppery Zoe brand olive oil which was a nice choice (over our many other oils that are more fruity, grassy).

Finally was the Rabo de Toro (Braised Oxtail) (p. 92) This dish took many hours to complete, and unfortunately we didn't have the tails from "Fighting Bulls" as listed in the ingredients. But we did have tails from some locally raised cows. This was my first oxtails (at least that I can remember), and certainly was a pain in my ass, as well as the bull's. It was very good, intensely rich and flavorful, and well paired with the other two dishes. The gelatinous nature of oxtails is not necessarily to either of our liking. Tyler attempted to have some manners and ate with his fork and knife, resulting in very little meat; while I dug in with both hands, resulting in very little meat.

So, our first full meal from the book - the results...the meal was exactly as he put it out for us. This is not fancy frilly Spanish cooking. This is a basic, working class meal. All of the flavors were right on. The labor was a bit much for our busy lives, but we didn't choose the fastest dishes. I would certainly make this again for friend and family, but not a fancy dinner party. This was our Menu del Martes.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Royal Foodie Joust: Coffee, Black Peppercorns & Honey

Sounds like a movie title for a group of New York Twenty-somethings, right? Well, its actually this month's competition over at FoodieBlogRolls. Each month they give us a list of ingredients and see what all of the food bloggers can come up with. Here is my entry:

Fried Morning-After Ice Cream
The ice cream:
1/2 C. Brandy (dark rum or cognac would work fine as well)
1 T. Black peppercorns (I mixed with szechuan which was very good)

Warm the brandy in the microwave or stove top (don't boil), and add freshly ground peppercorns. Give it a quick stir, cover and set for a few hours or overnight.

2 C. Cream
1 C. Milk
1/2 C. Coconut Palm Sugar (or sub light brown sugar)
1/4 C. Honey
1/2 t. Freshly Grated Nutmeg
2 Eggs

Warm the milk and cream with the sugar and nutmeg to a simmer. Whisk until sugar is complete dissolved. In small bowl, whisk the eggs and honey with a pinch of salt. Add a quarter cup of the hot milk into the eggs whisking well, then return the egg mixture to the larger milk mixture and cook, whisking until it slightly thickens. Don't boil, just get it to 175F if you have a thermometer. If you don't, just let it thicken a bit. Pour the mixture into a bowl, cover with saran touching the top of the mixture so no skin forms, and let chill overnight (at least 6 hours).

Freeze the ice cream in your ice cream maker. Once its thickened we need to freeze it hard in the shape that you want to deep fry it. I perfect 2 or 3" ball is ideal, but find something that won't have edges melt off. If you can't find anything round, try a highball glass. Line it with saran, pour the ice cream into it, and freeze until hard. If you have trouble getting the ice cream out, fill a bowl with hot water, set the glass in it for a few seconds and the ice cream filled saran should lift right out.

Fill a sauce pan with veg or canola oil and bring to 375F. Make a quick tempura batter using 1 egg, 1 C. ice cold coffee, 1 C. AP flour. Whisk egg, add coffee, and finally flour. Prepare a bowl of panko (of if you want to be really decadent, dried, ground brioche). Take your ice cream block/ball and dip it into the tempura, then the panko and carefully set it in the oil until its a nice brown - maybe 30 seconds. Its a scary fizzy, mess so don't panic. Remove the ice cream from the oil and set it on a paper towel to drain. Plate and eat! I made a coffee reduction with lots of butter and sugar for my plating along with some pizzelles.

This was a very good dish, albeit larger than I would have liked to make. Good thing I have our employee, John, who will eat anything I throw at him. I hope someone gives this a try - its fun!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Recipe: Vegan Cake...that's good...really!

I have a song going though my head:
Stacy's mom has got it goin' on
Stacy's mom has got it goin' on

Stacy, do you remember when I mowed your lawn?
Your mom came out with just a towel on
I could tell she liked me from the way she stared
And the way she said, "You missed a spot over there"
And I know that you think it's just a fantasy
But since your dad walked out, your mom could use a guy like me

Stacy's mom has got it goin' on

She's all I want, and I've waited so long

Stacy, can't you see you're just not the girl for me
I know it might be wrong,
but I'm in love with Stacy's mom

It's been going through my head for days, and as I worked in the kitchen this morning, sure enough, it popped onto the radio.

I was asked to bake a vegan birthday cake for this weekend. My experience with previous cakes is that they sucked. They were dry, pasty and generally not fit for shoving up a turtle's butt. But then I found a base recipe at recipezaar (#9390) and then I did some modifications, and now I have a cake that I'm not only proud of, I think it's great. The crumb is more like a box cake (loose and moist) than a genoise (tight and dry), but most people prefer box cakes anyway.

1 1/2 C. AP Flour
1/3 C. Natural Cocoa Powder (not Dutch processed)
1 t. Baking Soda
3/4 C. Sugar
1/2 C. Chopped Nuts of your choice

1/2 C. Vegetable or Canola Oil
1/2 C. Cold Almond Milk (or soy milk or rice milk)
1/2 C. Cold Blood Orange Juice (or regular orange juice)
1 t. Vanilla Extract
1 t. Orange Extract

2 T. O Olive Oil brand Yuzu Rice Vinegar (or vinegar of your choice)

Oven to 375 F
(Note I modified for altitude by dropping to 325 F, and using only 1/2 t. Baking Soda)

Sift all dry ingredients into a bowl. Take your 9" sprinform and lay a sheet of parchment paper on the bottom. Let the paper hang out the sides and close the wall onto the bottom securing the paper. In my test run I cut a paper circle and later realized that it wouldn't stay in place when the ingredients were mixed.

Sift the ingredients again into the springform. No need to butter the sides, by the way. Make a small well in the center of the dry ingredients. Combine the liquids in a separate bowl, EXCEPT the vinegar. Whisk thoroughly. Using your widest wire whisk or a fork, pour the wet into the dry and combine.

Now, without wasting anytime, add the vinegar to the batter and stir again until completely dawdling...the chemical reaction has just started! Throw that bad boy into the oven for 25-30 minutes (45 at my altitude) and bake until done. Here's what it looks like after I leveled it for layering.

You can see how moist it is. I then added some amazing Pakistani orange marmalade.

Put the second layer on. Coated the whole thing in a water-based ganache.

Really, a rather amazing dessert considering there is no butter, egg, cream, milk...all the good stuff. Just good chocolate and good ingredient choices with the vinegar. I see a multitude of options with this recipe including flavored oils, other flavors of vinegar, types of "milk" (I'd like to try an horchata or piñon milk), or playing around with the nuts. So if you believe there is no such thing as a good vegan cake...think again! And by the way, this cake was for Kimberley's Mom, not Stacy's ;)

Candied Ginger

I made a batch of candied/crystallized ginger yesterday using andiesenji's method from eG found here. Its a very simple recipe that results in very tender pieces. It involves about 10 minutes of work and 8 hours of waiting. Give it a try and dip them in chocolate for the holidays.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Recent Dinner

Tyler was in the Fall mood as well last week when he whipped up this dinner. English bangers, wild rice pilaf, and roasted squash. He filled one with a savory butter, and the other with brown sugar butter. Guess which one was my favorite!

Recipe: Banana Bread Plus

Whether it was the loss of Tad, or the cooling weather, I've been craving comfort food lately. This morning I made a banana bread with a few extras:

2 C. Flour
1 C. Chopped nuts (walnut, pecan, almond)
1/2 C. Cacao Nibs
1/2 C. Crushed Coffee BeansBold1/2 C. Sugar
3/4 t. Baking Soda
Big pinch, Salt
3-4 Brown Bananas
1/3 C. Plain Yogurt
2 Eggs
3/4 Stick Butter, melted
1 T. Vanilla

Oven to 350F. Grease & flour loaf pan or line with parchment.

Put nuts in a bowl, then into the microwave and zap until you smell them (about 2 minutes). Kerry Beal from eG taught me that method of toasting and it works great.

Whisk the flour, sugar, soda, salt, nuts, nibs and coffee together. Combine the bananas, yogurt, eggs, butter and vanilla. Pour the liquids into the solids and fold until just combined. Pour into your loaf pan and bake around 55 minutes or until done. I topped mine with a crumb because I couldn't leave well enough alone.

Enjoy warm with a hot tea and a loved one.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Loss of a friend

Tonight we lost a friend - Tad van der Weele to cancer. He was too young, but the disease was so fast. You can see his art at his website. We've always thought he was the best artist in town. And he was certainly one of the most giving, caring people we befriended in our little community. His Buddhist beliefs give hope to his future, and we're left to be support for his spouse, Patrick (who's a workaholic like me).

To Hell and Back!

Actually to an area called Hell's Half Acre. Tyler and the pooches and I took a little hike out to Hell's Half Acre.

You approach it from the top of a mesa, then scramble down into the valley to an area that has virtually no vegetation, just rock. Local lore says that this is the area that Geronimo would lead the cavalry into, knowing they wouldn't be able to find their way out, and die.

You haven't really met my girl, Lexi before. She always leads the way on hikes.

Whenever I go out for a hike, long or short, she's with me. And I have numerous stories of her being the best hiking dog ever. She's alerted me to bears, scary people, water when I was dehydrated, name it. We're always very connected when we're out hiking. This day was particularly windy and her ears were flapping away.

Just like any good parent, I hate when she runs to the edge of a cliff to catch a view. I wish she would stay back 10 feet. But she doesn't.

She is a mix of a Blue Tick Hound and Blue Heeler. Hence the name, Lexington Elizabeth ( in in the Bluegrass state). But enough about my little girl. After a while we sat down to enjoy a little hiking snack (all hikers should eat this well).

Kind of an eclectic international mix of foods. And here's a cheese for LL!

Fromage de Brebis is a sheep's milk cheese that is ultra buttery and creamy. Unfortunately, not too stinky, but a really great taste. Perfect on a dense cracker. You can see, it was a chilly day, so our cheese was a bit warm, but good nonetheless. Lexi didn't get any.

A Gift From The Netherlands

Isn't it great to get a box like this from the postman:

Klary (linked to the left) who visited last month sent me a battered and bruised box full of goodies!

I'll start enjoying this weekend, but it includes stroopwaffels, spices for holiday baking, a massive wedge of goudaa nougaty thing (which I can't wait to sink my teeth into), and the letter in Rob. The R is part of a tradition in the Netherlands where you give a chocolate letter to someone. From

Sinterklaas is the Dutch name for Saint Nicholas. Saint Nicholas was a bishop who lived and worked in Asia Minor. He was born in the in 271 AD. Some sources say that he died on the sixth of December in 343AD. In the year 1998 he would have been 1728 years old.

In Holland people believe that St. Nicholas comes from Spain. This must be because in the 17th century Holland was famous for its navigation so the Dutch sailors had plenty of contact with the Spanish sailors. Also, Holland was ruled by Spain in the 16th century. The Spanish sailors believed in St. Nicholas as their guardian Saint. They must have told the Dutch sailors about this and the Dutch sailors must have taken that back to Holland. In Holland the name given to St. Nicholas is "Sinterklaas".

So why does the old man bother to come to this soggy country when he could be having a great time in the sunshine by his pool? Why, it's because of his birthday! His birthday is actually on December 6th, but for some arcane reason it is celebrated a day before .
Before this memorable occasion Sinterklaas climbs onto his "schimmel" and trots around on rooftops. How on Earth he gets there is never explained, and how he keeps his balance on the sloping, slippery roofs is even less understood. Assisted by his black henchmen he now and then throws presents down the chimneys (mostly sweets, suggesting a conspiracy of dentists...), a practice which reduced whole cities to ashes, centuries ago. This was prevented by the introduction of the central heating, with scores of disappointed children as a side effect.

Thanks to the parents this hasn't yet resulted in a downfall of civilisation, as they assume the role of Sinterklaas and put presents like chocolate letters (mostly you get only the first letter of your first name) and marzipan or sugar animals in the shoes their offspring have put in front of the heating element instead. These shoes have been prepared by putting hay and/or a carrot in them, for the horse, though how this animal should get into the room is unclear and not questioned by the children. Thankful that the horrible vegetables are gone, the kids eat themselves silly on the sweets next morning. This shoe business is the opportunity for the children to give lists of all the presents they want to Sinterklaas.

Thanks Klary - Piet will be very kind to you this year :)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Food Porn: Unagi

I finally have unagi at the store (broiled eel). I had a big slab for myself today for breakfast.

Do I Need A Reason To Bake A Cake?!

I've been working on this guy for a few days for the POM Wonderful and Foodie Blogroll contest, and people kept asking, "Who's it for?" or "What's if for?" My answer - I'm just playing around. First, the pic of the cake, then a cool technique for anyone not familiar with the Exotic Orange Cake from the Pastry Championships a few years back.

Two layers of Pistachio cake filled with rose cream, surrounded by pomegranate bavarois (think custardy mousse). Topped with pomegranate geleè, pomegranate seeds, white chocolate leaves, white chocolate spheres and sprayed with white chocolate for the velvet effect.

The picture doesn't do the effect justice so let me show the steps for anyone who says they are a bad cake decorator - an easy, fool-proof method of having a great show-stopping cake!

First, bake your favorite cake. Here is what I made:
Pistachio Cake
3/4 C. Chopped pistachios
1 C. AP Flour
1 t. Baking Powder (you may want to use more since I did an altitude adjustment)
1 t. Ground Cardamom
1/2 t. Salt
1/2 C. Milk, Room Temp
1/2 t. Vanilla
1 1/2 Sticks of Butter, Room Temp
3/4 C. Sugar
3 Eggs

Oven to 350F. Butter and flour your 9" springform. Combine nuts, flour, powder, cardamom and salt. In separate bowl, combine butter and sugar, then add the eggs until incorporated. Add the milk and vanilla. And finally, add the flour and nut mixture just until combined. Bake about 35 minutes.

Chill the cake. Split it in two (or three or more). Make your filling - a thick curd, a pastry cream, melted jelly, whatever floats your boat. I used a riff on Julia's pastry cream.

1 C. Cream
1 1/2 T. Cornstarch
2 T. Sugar
1 Yolk
1 t. Rose Water

Combine cream, starch and sugar and whisk. Microwave for a good minute, whisk and microwave again for another minute. Keep doing this until it starts to thicken. Once it starts tot thicken, combine the yolk and rose water, then temper the yolk mixture with the hot cream. Return the yolk to the remaining cream and microwave for another 30 seconds. Whisk and chill. Now the fun part.

You'll need a 9" and 10" springform pan. Cut some parchment or wax paper to line the sides. On the bottom of the pan (before you attach the sides), take an old can lid or small plate, place it on the pan bottom and cover the whole thing with saran wrap. Get as many wrinkles out as you can because they will show like a hideous zit on a 16-year old's nose! Now, attach the side to the bottom. Work again at removing the wrinkles.

Make a bavarain/bavarois. I made a Pomegranate Bavarois:
1 1/4 C. Whole Milk
1/4 C. Pom Wonderful Pomegranate Juice (fresh or from bottle)
1/3 C. Sugar
3 Yolks
1 t. Vanilla
4 t. Gelatin
1 3/4 C. Heavy Cream

Bring milk to a boil. Whisk the pomegranate, sugar, yolks and vanilla. Pour a 1/4 C. of the hot milk into the mixture whisking constantly. Pour the pomegranate mixture back into the original hot milk. Continue cooking on med-low, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. While this is cooking, pour 2 T. water over the gelatin. Once the mixture thickens, add the gelatin glop and whisk until it melts. Cool completely to room temp. Whip the cream until just past soft peaks. Gently fold the pomegranate mixture into the cream.

Pipe or pour some of the bavarois into the bottom of your springform so it covers the saran covered lid/plate. Lay one layer of cake, then filling, then cake. Pipe, pour the remaining bavarois around the side being sure to fill in the crevices really well. I will typically drop the pan a few times on the floor to release air bubbles. Next, throw it in the freezer overnight.

When you open the pan the next day you'll see this.

Doesn't look like much yet does it? Okay, let's turn it over.

Look how smooth that top and edges are! To release the lid, I opened the saran, poured a bit of hot water into it and it came right out. On my second cake I used a lid from a 28 oz tin can.

Same effect with a shallower hole. But, let's look at that first hole again.

This hole will get filled in a minute, but first, since I don't do anything simple, I got out my Wagner Power Painter and created a velvet effect on my cakes with white chocolate thinned with cocoa butter.

Nice huh?! The last step is to fill the hole. Keep your cake frozen throughout this process. I filled with a geleè...fancy jello. You can fill with regular jello, melted jelly or get as creative as you want - gelatinized margarita! Throw it in the fridge for the jello to set up. Quick note - let your jello chill a bit before you pour it, but before it thickens. This is what you'll end up with.

(See my wrinkles on this cake? Smooth that saran!)
I love this technique because I'm not much for piping frosting. Also, its not frosting, so people tend to like the coating better than sugary stuff. Give it a try. I'd love to see one my readers (like Kendra) do this and share the results.