The grand thing about cooking is you can eat your mistakes. -Julia Child

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Chocolate-Kissed Angel Food Cake


When I was young, I don't remember my grandmother baking very often.  This was the 80s, everyone was busy learning to microwave!  Or at least she was.  Don't get me wrong - there were still several grandmotherly treats issued:  small candy bars from my grandfather's stash (Snickers!), caramel and butterscotch hard candies (Werther's!), gum (Freedent!), trips to Dairy Queen (Mr. Misty slush!), even the occasional pan of brownies.  But I have this one vague memory of a true baking marvel - my first angel food cake.

Or that's at least what I think I remember.  I have the worst memory ever.  (Apparently for everything but prepackaged food products.)  But when I think angel food cake, I think grandma, so I'm going to just fill in the blanks here and imagine that we baked one of these together and had a special moment.  I think the story went something like this:  We were in the cake mix section of the Kroger or some other southern grocery chain, and my grandmother asked me what kind of cake I'd like to bake.  I chose angel food cake because it had the prettiest name.  Doesn't angel food sound better than just "yellow"?  It baked up big and tall and fluffy good.

Ever since then I've loved the stuff.  The adult in me can look past the name and love it for what it is - a light, fluffy cake that is fun to eat.  Added bonus - it is lower in fat and calories than most other cakes, so a slice isn't going to derail your diet.  This version involves the addition of flecks of chocolate, giving the interior the speckled appearance of cookies and cream ice cream.  And oh yeah, no box mix needed.

Chocolate-Kissed Angel Food Cake
Adapted from Ina Garten
Printable version

1 1/3 cups cake flour (make your own if needed)
2 cups sugar, divided
1 1/2 cups egg whites, room temperature (from 10-12 eggs)
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 to 1/2 cup grated semisweet chocolate, plus extra for garnish (grate a chocolate bar with a cheese grater or Microplane)
powdered sugar, for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Sift together flour and 1/2 cup of the sugar.  Sift the same flour/sugar mix one more time and set aside.
Using an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment on high speed (or using your own arms and a whisk) beat egg whites, salt, and cream of tartar together in the largest bowl you have until mixture just barely reaches the firm peaks stage (about one minute).
Slowly add the remaining 1 1/2 cups sugar with mixer on medium speed.  Return to high speed and beat for a few more minutes until mixture is billowy and shiny.  (Admire how pretty it is!)
Whisk in the vanilla.
Sift 1/4 of the flour mixture over the egg mixture and fold it in gently with a rubber spatula.  (See the link on the side of the page for a good demonstration of proper folding technique.)  Fold in the rest of the flour mixture in three parts, sifting flour prior to addition.
Fold in the grated chocolate.
Pour the batter into an ungreased 10-inch tube pan.  Use your spatula to smooth the top.
Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until cake will spring back after a gentle touch.
Remove cake from oven and invert pan on cooling rack.  (If your pan does not have those helpful prongs to keep your cake elevated, place the pan upside down on top of a bottle with a long neck like a wine bottle.)
When the cake is cool, gently run a knife along the sides of the cake and lift the center portion of the tube pan out of the sides.  Run a knife along the bottom of the cake to separate it from the base of the pan.  Invert cake and  remove pan base.
Dust top with chocolate shavings and powdered sugar.  Serve.

Verdict?  Such a good take on angel food cake.  Ina's original recipe calls for a thick, chocolatey glaze to be poured over the cake.  Since I'm not a huge fan of chocolate this seemed like overkill to me and I didn't make it, but if that seems like your cup of tea then I urge you to follow the link above and check out the original recipe.  My pictured cake also uses a scant 1/4 of chocolate.  I was worried that the cake would be too chocolatey for me to properly enjoy as an angel food cake so I went light on it.  My concerns were relatively unfounded, though, so feel free to use up to Ina's recommended 1/2 cup.  This was great with a scoop of coffee ice cream on the side.  Yum.....

Friday, July 17, 2009

Cherry Popovers


Another AZEats recipe.

Do you know what a popover is? Tell me. Mmm hmm. Oh really?

Okay, so maybe you're right. But maybe you, like me before baking today's recipe, had only some sort of vague idea what a popover was, just knowing it was something doughy and yummy. Which is, of course, correct. But there's more to it than that as I learned while trying to figure out a recipe.

A popover is an eggy batter baked up until it puffs and "pops" up over the top of the baking dish. Popovers can be made in their own little popover tins, or in a muffin pan. The finished popover should have a nice crusty exterior and a just barely doughy interior (think the texture of the inside of a french cruller donut).

Anyhow, cherries are in season both here and in Azerbaijan. My friend there told me they're big and pretty and so I had to figure out something to make with them. Cherry popovers came to mind, I don't know why. And that is why I had to go figure out exactly what a popover was and how to make them. I was happy with the results and hopefully you will be, too.

Cherry Popovers
Adapted from Maida Heatter's famous 1966 recipe
Makes 12 small popovers (in a muffin tin, probably more like 8 if you use a popover tin)
Printable version

1 heaping cup of cherries, pitted and halved (about 24 cherries or 1/3 lb)
3 teaspoons sugar, divided
3 eggs
1 cup milk
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted (plus more butter for greasing the pan)
1 cup flour, sifted
1/2 teaspoon salt
dash of cinnamon

In a small bowl, mix cherries and 1 teaspoon sugar. Set aside.
Grease bottom and sides of muffin cups.
Beat the eggs. Add in the milk and melted butter.
In a small bowl, blend together flour, salt, remaining sugar, and cinnamon. Stir the flour mixture into the egg mixture a small amount at a time. Beat until just barely smooth.
Divide the cherries among the muffin cups. Pour the batter over the cherries, ensuring there is an equal amount in each muffin cup.
Bake for about 50 minutes. Try not to open the oven during that time to retain heat/steam. Popovers should have risen and the outsides should be somewhat dry. Remove from oven and use a knife to cut a few small slits in the top each popover.
Return to oven and bake for an additional 5 minutes. Cool and serve.

Verdict? It was quite a surprise when I took these out of the oven. They did actually puff up big and tall like they were supposed to, despite the fact that I have to keep opening my oven to make sure the temperature hasn't suddenly skyrocketed as my picky oven likes to do. I know those of you in Azerbaijan don't have the most user-friendly ovens. Just do as I did and keep a close eye on the popovers - watch for them browning and remove them from the oven when they've puffed and the outsides look crisp, don't worry about the inside.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Navajo Fry Bread & Navajo Tacos


When I was 11 I spent a summer in New Mexico with my mom. She was intent on soaking up as much of the culture of the region as possible, so we took a lot of day trips. Many of those trips took us to the nearby Navajo reservation where I quickly developed a love of fry bread.

Fry bread (spelled as either two words or just one - "frybread") is a food that seems to be common to many American Indian tribes. It is what it sounds like - fried bread. Dough is formed by hand into a flat patty-like shape and then fried until golden on both sides. The way I remembered it, it tasted just slightly sweet, like some really yummy white bread and a funnel cake had a baby.

Fry bread will win no health awards. In fact, this article in Smithsonian Magazine basically calls out fry bread as one of the causes of obesity among American Indians. Regardless, I loved it. My favorite way to eat it was in a Navajo taco - fry bread dressed up with beans, lettuce, tomato, and other fixins. Fry bread is also great topped with honey as a sweet treat.

Navajo Fry Bread and Tacos
Printable Version

Navajo Fry Bread
Makes 4 pieces

1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 powdered milk
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon warm water
corn, canola, or vegetable oil for frying

Add dry ingredients to the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to blend. Turn processor on and slowly pour water in the pour spout until a ball of dough forms. The dough should be just moist enough to pull away from the sides and stay together in one ball, but still be sticky to the touch.
Remove dough to a lightly oiled bowl and let rest while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. Dough should rest for at least 10 minutes.
When ready to fry dough, pour oil 1/2 deep into a large skillet. Heat oil to 350-365 degrees.
Cut dough into four equal portions. On a floured work surface, use your hands to pat each dough piece into a circle about 8 inches in diameter. You can also use a rolling pin. Use your thumb to create a depression in the very center of the flattened dough.
When oil is ready, gently slip the formed dough into the oil. Use a spatula to press down the dough to allow oil to coat the top. Fry about 2 minutes until the bottom is browned, then flip to brown the other side. Remove to a plate covered with paper towels. Fry bread may be kept warm in a 200 degree oven until ready to serve.

Navajo Tacos
Makes 4 tacos

4 pieces fry bread, recipe above
Southwest-Style Black Beans, recipe below
1/4 head of lettuce, shredded
1 tomato, chopped
1/4 onion, chopped
any other taco toppings you like (shredded cheese, cilantro, sour cream, guacamole, etc.)

Top warm fry bread with beans, lettuce, tomato, onion, and any other topping you wish. Eat open face with a fork and knife or use your hands and eat taco folded in half.

Southwest-Style Black Beans

1 teaspoon olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped onion
1 clove garlic, chopped
one 15 ounce can black beans
1/2 cup vegetable stock
1 teaspoon tomato paste (optional, use if you have on hand)
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
dash dried oregano
dash ground cayenne pepper

In a small saucepan over medium heat, warm olive oil. Add onion and garlic and cook until onion is transparent.
Add black beans and vegetable stock and bring to a boil. Add tomato paste and seasonings and stir to combine.
Reduce heat to low and simmer while preparing remaining ingredients and frying bread.

Absolute yum. I greedily managed to eat two of these in one sitting. I napped shortly thereafter. But seriously - I lucked upon a really tasty recipe. The bread had that faint sweetness I remember, courtesy of the milk powder. It puffed up nicely, regardless of whether I shaped the bread by hand or used a rolling pin. My beans recipe might not be super authentic, but they were quite tasty. Definitely give this a try when you're in the mood for something comforting and filling.

Frybread recipe inspired by:
Manataka American Indian Council
What's Cooking America
Emeril Lagasse

Monday, July 6, 2009

Cherry-Vanilla Trifle


So I had a bit of a bakingsplosion the other night.  I was making cupcakes and my oven decided that it preferred baking things at 375 instead of 325.  Which meant my cupcakes puffed up too high too fast and spilled out of their little muffin cups.  They looked like giant portabella mushrooms.  I didn't have time to bake another batch so I just trimmed off the excess and iced them and called it a day.  But that meant I had a bowl full of cake scraps, and I can't bring myself to throw edible food away, so I needed to figure out what to do with 2 cups of crumbled cake.

Trifle, of course.  Trifle doesn't care if your cake comes out ugly, misshapen, etc.  The cake really isn't the star here, but just one layer of tastiness that comes together to make a pretty dessert.  Use any kind of cake, cake-like cookies, brownies, or other baked-goods leftovers you have on hand.  The other layers are usually pudding, fruit, and whipped cream.  Cherries are in season here and I couldn't resist buying some of the pretty red orbs at the farmer's market, so they were the chosen fruit.

Cherry-Vanilla Trifle
By Me
Serves 2 

Printable Version

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream, chilled
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon sugar
2 cups cake crumbles, ladyfingers, madelines, etc.
Cherry-Vanilla Compote, recipe follows
Pastry Cream, recipe follows

Chill mixing bowl and whisk/mixer beaters.  Pour chilled cream into bowl and beat just until soft peaks form.  (You can tell this by lifting your whisk out of the cream and turning it upside down.  If the cream holds a peaked shape but folds a bit at the top and/or moves if you lightly tap the whisk - this is "soft peaks".  If the peaks don't budge when you tap the whisk, then the "stiff peaks" stage has been reached.)  Add the vanilla extract and sugar and beat until barely at the "stiff peaks" stage.  Be careful not to overwhip!  Cream will jump from soft peaks to stiff very quickly.
In individual clear dessert dishes, spread about 1/3 of the cake crumbles to make a layer.  Top with a layer of cherry compote, then a layer of pastry cream.  Repeat the layers and top with whipped cream.

Cherry-Vanilla Compote
By Me

1 lb cherries, pitted and halved
juice of one lemon
3 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cointreau
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a small saucepan, bring cherries, lemon juice and sugar to a boil.  Boil for 5 minutes, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes, until slightly thickened.  In a small bowl, stir together cointreau and cornstarch.  Add mixture to cherries and stir.  Return to a boil and boil for one minute.  Remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract.  Set aside to cool.

Pastry Cream
Adapted from Bakewise (currently my favorite baking book)

1 cup milk
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste, 1 tablespoon vanilla extract, or 1 vanilla bean (seeds scraped out and added simultaneously)
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons cornstarch
5 large egg yolks

Add the milk, cream, and vanilla to a medium saucepan.  Warm over medium heat until mixture begins to steam.
In a second saucepan, stir together sugar, salt, and cornstarch.
Pour the milk mixture into the second saucepan, whisking to combine.
Place this second saucepan over the heat and bring to a boil, stirring constantly.  Make sure to scrape the bottom while stirring.  Continue to stir and cook/boil until custard thickens.  (My favorite quote from the original recipe applies here: "This will be very thick and go blop, blop....")
Remove from heat and cool.

Verdict?  So good.  Absolutely flavor-filled yet very comforting.  The pastry cream is like a richer, smoother, and creamier version of pudding that really pulls everything together.  The cherry compote holds together well enough to make a pretty layer.  And you can never go wrong when there is cake and whipped cream involved.  In my opinion, at least.