Friday, January 26, 2007

The ONLY Chocolate Pound Cake You'll Ever Want: Thank you, Judith Olney

Favorite cookbooks open automatically to favorite recipes, and my copy of Judith Olney's The Joy of Chocolate (1982, Barron's Educational Series) opens to page 68 -- CHOCOLATE POUND CAKE.

I have made it over and over again and it has never failed, and never failed to please. It travels incredibly well: across town, in my luggage around the country, and, handed frozen to the lovely people at FedEX, it has gone overnight to California and to Alaska. I'm told that it is a good keeper -- that's not been my experience because it's never been on the counter for more than a day. It is the CHOCOLATE POUND CAKE that every pound cake wants to be when it grows up.

But there is more to this cookbook than just the Fabulous Pound Cake. The photographs are riveting. The cover photo of CHOCOLATE CABBAGE CAKE is breath-taking. I will make this someday -- sponge cake halves sandwiched with whipped cream, surrounded by chocolate leaves molded from real cabbage leaves. When will I do this? Not soon, but someday.

Her preface is thorough and helpful, including "Working with Chocolate," "Working with cream," "Working with Eggs," and excellent advice on equipment. She presents concise conversions for liquid, imperial, and metric liquid and volume measures. Best of all, if you have ever puzzled over Nigella Lawson and her gas mark oven temperatures, the gas mark/fahrenheit/centigrade conversion table is on page xxiv.

SOUR CREAM MARBLED POUND CAKE, is a gem, but for me, the most fun to be had from a cookbook is from Judith Olney's GEODES. If you have ever made truffles or love to play with clay, this is your recipe. With GEODES, you make dark and white truffle mixtures and then wrap them one around the other, light over dark over light. Part of the fun is fiddling with the chocolate, but the best part is watching your pals cut into small or large GEODES and finding multiple layers of chocolate. The GEODES in the her photo are pristine and precise. Mine are rough and uneven -- more like a something dug from the earth. Next time, though, I'm tinting the white chocolate purple and trying to persuade my pals that these are Amethysts.

Adapted ever so slightly from Joy of Chocolate
I use a large tube pan from Bridge Kitchenware. Mrs. Bridge told me that her husband designed it for Maida Heatter. Hats off to all of them!

1 cup cocoa (I use Penzey's Dutch Process which is 24% butterfat)
2 cups sifted all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 T instant espresso (or other instant coffee powder)
3 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature
3 cups granulated sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract (Cook's Magazine says that imitation vanilla is fine in recipes like these where you can't tell the difference)
5 eggs at room temperature
1 cup buttermilk (I use SACO Cultured Buttermilk Blend powder and sift the 4 T of powder with the dry ingredients in step 2)
1/4 cup water ( or 1-1/4 cup water if you have used buttermilk powder.)

1. Preheat the oven to 325. Butter a tube pan and, instead flour, dust with cocoa. Presto! NO ugly white spots.

2. Sift the cocoa, flour, baking powder, salt and espresso powder. Set aside.  If using buttermilk powder, sift with these ingredients.  Having an electric sifter makes sifting three times to incorporate everything a snap.

3. Using a stand mixer, cream the butter for two minutes. Add the sugar in a slow stream and then beat on high for five minutes. Slow the mixer and add the vanilla. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating briefly after each addition.

4. Add the dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk and water mixture or plain water if you have used buttermilk powder. Scrape down the sides and mix by hand at the end, making sure to catch any unmixed batter.

5. Pour into the pan, and bake for 80 minutes, turning the pan half way through. Check with a cake tester at 75 minutes. The cake is done when the tester comes out clean.

6. Rest the cake in the pan for 20 minutes, then unmold onto a rack.

7. To freeze, cool completely and double wrap in plastic and then double wrap in foil.

Thank you, Judith Olney.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Really spicy molasses cookies

It took a while for me to embrace spicy food for dinner -- my Mother's first attempt at Chicken Creole in the early 1960s called for 1/8th tsp of cayenne, and for years in her house, cayenne was doled out of that same can, grain by grain.

But I always loved spicy gingerbread -- whether cake-like or sludgy in the pan, as gingerbread men or especially the crispy Moravian ginger cookies -- I loved the combination of molasses and spices, and I always willing to double the spice.
Except for one lovely afternoon with some friends and a Spritz-making apparatus, I hadn't made a cookie in decades, but I was recently brought back to the fold.

Bridget Lancaster, the wonderfully inventive, creative and knowledgeable cook, well-known to fans of America's Test Kitchen, wrote about "Joe Froggers," a 200-year-old cookie made with seawater and rum in COOK'S COUNTRY (February-March 2007, p 9). She tracked the cookie's history and worked out the kitchen science, so necessary because this recipe has no eggs. Some of its special flavor comes from a mixture of rum and salt (no seawater in the 21st century). This very flat cookie gets it nominal lift from baking soda mixed with molasses, which almost doubles in volume -- putting on a wonderful show for children of all ages. Its texture -- just crisp around the edges if you bake it long enough, comes from the proportion of molasses to sugar.

Although her version is well-spiced, it wasn't enough for me, so I increased the amount of ground spices, added cayenne and candied ginger. Also, I am not patient enough to chill now, roll and bake later. If I'm going to have a cookie every two decades, I want it now, and these are terrific drop cookies made with fresh dough. In the interest of science, however, I formed dough logs and froze them for slice-and-bake cookies. Wrap the rolls in plastic and refrigerate or freeze.

One more really good thing about this recipe for people who can't resist raw cookie dough: with no eggs, you may nibble away without fear of salmonella.
The traditional "Joe Frogger" is huge -- the Cook's Country version makes just two dozen. Depending on the size of your drop, the width of your dough logs and the thickness of your slices -- well, I have no idea how many dozens you might make.

Super Spicy Molasses Cookies (adapted from Cook's Country)

Useful tools: 2 cup measuring cup; parchment or silicon mats for baking

1 cup dark (not blackstrap) molasses
1 tsp baking soda
1/3 cup rum (dark is good, light is fine if that's what you have)
1 T water
1-1/2 tsp salt
3 cups all purpose flour, plus some for creating dough logs
1 tsp ground ginger
3/4 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg (fresh ground, please)
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/16 tsp ground cayenne
1 c sugar
2 T candied ginger, minced or processed very fine with the sugar
1 stick (8 T) butter, softened

1. In a two (or larger)-cup liquid measure, with the baking soda at the bottom, mix the soda and molasses. Set aside for about 15 minutes. It will almost double in volume, foaming in a nice way.
2. Dissolve the salt in the rum and water.
3. Whisk the flour and the dry spices.
4. On medium speed, beat the butter, ginger and sugar for four minutes.
6. On low speed, add the rum mixture -- it will look curdled. Then add the flour mixture and molasses alternately: three additions of flour and two of molasses. This is a stiff and sticky dough that may require finishing by hand.

BAKING: 375 degrees on a parchment or silicon-mat covered baking sheet.

7. Slice and bake: Form the dough into logs as wide or as narrow as you like. Cover with plastic and refrigerate or freeze until you're hungry. Sice, then bake 8-10 minutes, or until the tops are crakced. Cool in the pan for 5 minutes and the move to a rack (unless you've already eaten them). The thinner the slice, the more likely that your edges will be crisp.

8. Drop cookies #1: drop by tablespoon, and bake for 8 minutes, or until the tops are cracked. Cool in the pan for 5 minutes and then move to a a rack; OR Drop cookies #2: chill the dough for 1-24 hours in a bowl covered in plastic wrap. Drop by tablespoon and bake for 8 minutes or until the tops are cracked. Cool in the pan for 5 minutes and then move to a rack.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Spinach Balls - party food from your freezer

I've had Spinach Balls in my freezer for about 35 years. Why? Because they're easy to make in double and triple batches and because people love them. By the time the drinks are made, and guests have relaxed, Spinach Balls are out of the oven. If you're in a tearing hurry, they're out of the microwave in two or three minutes. Pour out some honey mustard for dipping, and you're on!

I believe that I clipped the original recipe from Bon Appetit. This one is adapted from a handwritten copy that my sister Elaine made from a version that I read to her over the phone that was in a small paperbound recipe journal that I'd collected over 20 years that I tossed out with recycling in 1998. Arrghhh! I replaced it with a full-sized, leather-bound journal that's too heavy to be mistaken for newsprint.

This is a snap with a food processor.

SPINACH BALLS - Makes about 40

2 boxes, frozen chopped spinach, thawed, drained,squeezed dry and separated into threads
5 oz grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
1 stick of butter, melted
1 7-oz bag of bread crumbs or seasoned croutons
3-4 scallions, cut in 2-inch lengths
2 eggs
Optional: garlic, hot peppers (flakes or whole dried), other herbs and spices of your choice

1. Grate the cheese and pulverize the croutons in the food processor. Remove to a large bowl.
2. Add the melted butter to the cheese and crouton mixture.
3. Process the eggs and scallions (and optional garlic and/or hot peppers) until the scallions are barely identifiable. Add to the cheese and crouton mixture and mix well.
4. Separate the spinach into threads so that they will mix easily into the cheese and crouton mixture. If you add all the spinach at once, you will spend 20 extra minutes mixing it into the cheese and croutons.
5. Use a tablespoon measure, then roll the balls, compressing them slightly. Yes, it would be faster to use an ice cream or cookie scoop, but you'd have to go back and roll them together by hand, anyway.
6. Freeze on a sheet of parchment or a silicone mat. Store in a plastic freezer bag.
7. Bake at 350: 15-20 minutes unfrozen; 20-25 minutes from frozen.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Bittman's Bread Breeds Fine French Toast

Happy New Year!

I have had French Toast three times in the last 20 years and, not coincidentally, all three were in the last three weeks. Why? Mark Bittman's Bread, which I have already discussed, is the key to both savory and sweet breads that make Fine French Toast.

Savory: To the basic recipe (3 cups flour, 1/4 tsp active dry yeast, 2 (yes two) tsp salt), add 1/2 cup freeze dried chives (from Penzeys, if you need a source  and 1/4 tsp dried red chili flakes.

Sweet: To the basic recipe (3 cups flour, 1/4 tsp active dry yeast, 2 tsp salt), add 1 tsp sugar, 1 tsp cinnamon, and 1 cup of the dried fruit of your choice. My choice was dried cherries, but had I been able to find raisins that appeared to have had a life in this decade, I'd have used raisins, also. One caveat: the cherries or raisins on the outside of the dough will burn into crispy critters on the sides of your cast iron casserole. Soak, scrub and make more bread!

French Toast: On the off chance that you have leftover bread, or if your plan is to make French Toast, leave the loaf out unwrapped overnight. Slice the bread as thick or thin as you like. Beat 1-2 eggs per person with salt, pepper, cream (for decadence, if available) or milk, and your choice of herbs and/or hot sauce for savory or sugar and cinnamon (or nutmeg or 5-spice...) for sweet. Soak the slices, turning once or twice, until most of the liquid is absorbed. Heat some butter in a pan (non-stick makes less mess), drop the slices into the butter, reduce the heat to low and cook about 5 minutes per side -- more if you like it crisp, less if you like your eggs and toast runny.

One more reason to bake bread every day. Thank you -- hats off again -- to Mark Bittman!