Sunday, February 28, 2010


Dear Megs,

I made croissants this weekend! I've never tried one of these fancy pastry doughs before, and though it's kind of an all day endeavor, it's really not complicated or even hard. You just need to be around and deal with it every 45 minutes or so. However, for the amount of work it requires, it does seem like kind of a small return, so next time I make these, I will probably make several batches at once. More work, yes, but apparently the dough freezes well, and, these were DELICIOUS.

The recipe I used is from the Williams and Sonoma baking bible, The Essentials of Baking, which I love because it has lots of scientific explanations of baking stuff, about why things work the way they do and such. Mine
didn't double in size when rising, which W & S attributes to the butter in the dough being too warm and making the layers stick together, but I don't think that was the case because they also say that the way to recognize the butter being to warm is that it oozes out the sides, which it didn't. But in the end it didn't matter because the result was light and flaky and so, soooooo good.


2 t active dry yeast
2 T sugar
3 T warm water
1 t salt
2 T cooled melted butter
1 c cold whole milk
2 1/2 c flour

1 c butter
2 T flour

1 egg
1 T whole milk

1 - Mix yeast, water, and a pinch of sugar until dissolved, let stand until foamy.
2 - Mix yeast mixture, the remaining sugar, salt, butter, milk, and 1/2c of flour with a wooden spoon (or your new Kitchenaid!) until blended.
3 - Add remaining flour 1/2c at a time, until just blended each time. Dough will be very sticky. Do not overblend, or it will lose some of that final lightness.
4 - Roll into a rectangle about 1/2 inch thick. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 45 minutes or so.

1 - Use a rolling pin or the heel of your hand to warm butter and shape it into a 6x8 inch rectangle. This means you can't use room temperature butter, though that would be easier to shape; you need to be able to pick it up. As you shape, press the flour into the surface of the butter. If it gets too warm (oozy), stick it in the fridge for a few minutes until it has firmed.

1 - The process by which you work butter into the dough for this type of pastry or for puff pastry is called laminating. The butter should be firm but pliable, the dough should not be allowed to warm enough to get sticky again.
2 - Place the chilled dough rectangle on your work surface with the short end toward you. Put the chilled butter package at the base of the dough rectangle, leaving 1/2 inch border of dough, and fold the top over, pressing dough together to seal.
3 - Roll into a 10x24 in rectangle, and then fold the bottom third up and the top third down as if folding a letter. Cover in plastic and return to fridge for 45 minutes. This is the first turn.
4 - Repeat last step 3 times for a total of 4 turns, and then return dough to chill for at least 4 hours or overnight.

1 - Roll the dough into a 9x18 in rectangle. Cut in half lengthwise, then cut each half crosswise into 4 squares, for a total of 8 squares. Cut each square in half diagonally.
2 - Butter your baking pans (no Pam this time - not after all that work!). Stretch each triangle to about twice its original length, and stretch the wide end of the triangle even further. Place the dough on the work surface with the point facing you and, grasping the wide end, roll dough toward point, turn the ends in slightly.
3 - Place on baking sheet about 3 inches apart. Cover with a dishtowel and allow to rise until doubled in size, about an hour and a half.
4 - Preheat oven to 425.
5 - Brush dough with egg/mild mixture and bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Coconut Cake

Dear Megs,

My mom's birthday is this week! We had dinner over there on Alex's parents' last night here (they visited for a week) and I decided to turn it into a little b-day celebration for my mom, even though she cooked dinner.

The cake I made her may have the most gorgeous texture of any cake I have ever tasted. Moist and soft, velvety. Lovely. The cake is not overwhelmingly coconutty, despite its name. I've seen it with pastry cream between the layers, and was going to make lemon curd to fill it with, but got lazy and used a lemon cake syrup instead. Next time, though, I'll really drench the layers with it instead of brushing it on with a pastry brush before icing: it was too subtle. This is another recipe from the ever-wonderful Cotton Country Collection, modified slightly by me.

Coconut Cake

1 c butter
2 c sugar
4 eggs, separated
1 t vanilla
1/2 t almond extract
2 2/3 c cake flour
1 1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
1/2 c coconut milk
1/2 c cream

Preheat oven to 350. Cream the shit out of the butter and sugar - this means it should be ALMOST WHITE when you start adding egg yolks one at a time. Add the vanilla and almond. Sift cake flour, measure, and sift again with other dry ingredients. Beat into butter mixture, alternating with the milk/coco milk. Beat egg whites stiff and fold into batter. Bake in 3 greased 9 inch layer pans for 30 minutes. Cool on racks, remove from pans when nearly cool.

Lemon syrup:
1/2 c sugar
1/4 c water
juice of 1 lemon
zest of 1 lemon
1 t vanilla

Boil sugar, water, and lemon juice until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in zest and vanilla. Brush cake layers with cooled or slightly warm syrup.

2 egg whites
1 1/2 c sugar
5 T cold water
pinch cream of tartar
1 1/2 t white Karo
1 t vanilla
grated unsweetened coconut

Combine all ingredients except for the vanilla and coconut in the top of a double boiler (or in a stainless mixing bowl, if you're me). Blend, then set onto the bottom of the double boiler (or saucepan, if you're me) in which water is already boiling. Beat mixture vigorously for 6-8 minutes. Remove from heat and add vanilla. Assemble cake, icing between layers. Icing will get progressively gooier. Ice the outside of cake and sprinkle with coconut. You *can* use sweetened coco flakes if you want, but these boiled icings are very sweet already, and the unsweetened adds a rich earthy flavor that manufacturers have somehow managed to pound out of sweetened coconut.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

King Cake!

Dear Megs,

This year I made my first Mardi Gras King Cake! Usually I order one from Gambino's, which used to be the best bakery in New Orleans, according to my mom. I don't know if it still is...Gambino got killed a few years back. Mob hit, I guess.

Anyway, King Cake isn't really cake, it's a sweet yeast bread that's really more like a breakfast bread or a danish of some sort. Iced with a simple confectioner's glaze, sprinkled with colored sugar. Num! After baking, you stuff a plastic baby in there somewhere, and the person who gets the baby has to bring the next cake or host the next party, depending on how you do it. New Orleans people have a very specific idea of what the baby is supposed to look like, but I had to make do with eBay and accidentally ordered these giant babies that are totally wrong. Oh well. Next year. There are lots of recipes online, but I decided to go with the simplest one, here. Glad I did! It was light and moist and wonderful and delicious. You should make one, but ignore the comments on that site - they aren't supposed to be extravagant or decadent or, well, cake. The secret to a good king cake, says my mom, is that king cake isn't very good. She said mine was better than Gambino's, but she has to say that. She's my mom.

Incidentally, here's what became of the baby:



Saturday, February 13, 2010

Simple, perfect cornbread

Hi Megs,

I thought today you could use a dose of comfort food. Wish you were here to share this with me! Sorry the picture sucks. I still haven't bothered to read the manual to my camera and figure out the low light settings, so I really shouldn't take pictures for the blog at night. Maybe when I finish my PhD I'll get around to figuring it out...

So, Alex and I bought half a pig from a local farm this winter, and I'm telling you, I'm never going back to store-bought. No guilt, no weird processing, no horrifying conditions. Just piggy. Delicious, delicious piggy. So anyway, we've been eating more pork than usual. The other night I decided to make chili, but instead of ground beef I used ground PORK, and instead of kidney beans I used local cattle beans, which seem to be exactly like kidney beans in every way except they're spotted red and white. Also, since it's a small company there's always a rock in there somewhere, which adds some excitement to dinner.

Anyhoo, I was wishing for bread and decided to whip up a batch of cornbread. Now, I feel like lots of people (and restaurants) mess cornbread up because they won't get out of its way. The whole point of cornbread is that it's got simple ingredients and it's easy to make. Cornbread is - and should be - country. This is a recipe I got from my mom, who got it from her mom, and so on. I'm not sure they would even call it a recipe - it's just how you make cornbread, and once upon a time, everybody just knew how to do it.

1 c cornmeal (I REALLY prefer coarse, which gives cornbread its great texture, but to each his own)
1 c flour
1 c milk (or buttermilk, or yogurt, or whatever dairy product you have lying around)
1 egg
1/4 c sugar
1/4 c oil (any one will do, but I usually use some kind of veg oil)
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
extra oil for skillet

Put some oil in a cast iron skillet, and place the skillet in the oven while it preheats, to 350 or 400. Doesn't really matter which. Mix ingredients in a big bowl (no need for a beater, a wooden spoon or spatula will easily do the trick), and pour the batter into the hot oil in the skillet. Bake until done. Eat too much of, preferably with butter.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Blondies for Grown-Ups

Dear Megs,

Today I had to make a dessert to bring to a Super Bowl party (WHO DAT!!!!), and was inspired by a blondie Alex got yesterday at Scratch Bakery, but I wanted to sex it up a little. So I added a few things. These were delicious, but in the future I won't melt the butter before mixing, because though I like a gooey bar-cookie, these were a little too gooey. Serious yum, though.

2 sticks butter (melted)
1 1/2 c dark brown sugar
1/2 c sugar
2 eggs
1 t vanilla
1/2 t almond extract
1 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
2 1/2 c flour
1/4 c cognac or bourbon (I used Hennessy)
1/2 c toffee chips
1 c dark chocolate chips (I was out, so I used 4 squares of semi-sweet baking, chopped coarsely)
1 c chopped pecans
zest of 2 oranges

Preheat oven to 350. Butter and flour (I used Pam baking spray, my new love - it's so easy) a 9x13 baking pan. Mix butter and sugar (cream butter and sugar if you decide not to use melted butter). Add eggs one at a time, beating thoroughly. Mix in extracts and booze. Mix in salt, baking powder and flour, then fold in nuts, candy, and orange zest. Bake for 30-45 minutes, depending on how gooey you like them. I tried 30, until the middle was just set, but after eating one, I stuck them back in the oven for 15 minutes. They were still really moist and rich even after that.

Love, Linz