Tuesday, January 18, 2011

K.A.F. Muffin Pans

The picture below is of the muffin tins my family has used as long as I can remember. To give them fair credit, they have served us faithfully for many years... but perhaps not well. My mother has frequently expressed her... frustration with them while standing at the sink fussing and scrubbing out each individual cup, coated with a layer of baked on flour and sugar. And I more than once felt my blood pressure rise as yet another batch of muffins came out with the bottoms torn off. Paper liners helped a great deal, but I frequently forget to use them.

Then mom and I paid a visit to King Arthur Flour, and I eyed their exclusive line of baking pans. They claimed great things about them; even cooking, no stick, easy clean-up, lifetime warranty, made in the U.S.A.! Granted they are pricier than most pans you come across in the supermarket, but I am all for paying a little more for U.S. made and good quality. So, mom bought me the muffin tin for Christmas so we could test their claims.

Their claims are good.

My first batch of Blueberry Muffins turned out beautifully. They all seemed to rise evenly, as opposed to our old pans where some stood above the pan by two inches or more and others would be nearly flat. And then removing them from the pan... memories of gouging around the edges of each muffin with a table knife filled my mind as I simply lifted each muffin out of the pan.

No sticking. Whatsoever. And layers of baked on flour and sugar to scrub off, and what little bit was left on the top of the pan simply wiped away. Yesterday mom made her own batch of muffins using my pan and declared quite firmly after washing the pan that we ALL need our own set of K.A.F. pans now!

As you've probably figured out, I'm planning on investing in their baking sheets and bread pans next. Maybe I can wait until my next trip to the store to pick them up... but maybe not. And no, they aren't paying me anything to gush about their products. They don't have to!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Lemon Swirl Cheesecake

I served this for Christmas with my Mom's family. The crust made of Nilla Wafers was a revelation! I've never had cheesecake made with anything but graham cracker crusts, and frankly, there have been times when I scoop out the filling and sort of scatter the crust around the plate to make it look like the remnants were an accident. This crust however, is lighter and altogether more enjoyable. The cheesecake itself is flavored with lemon curd, then large dollops of more curd are lightly swirled through the batter for a beautiful dessert and strong, genuine lemon flavor. The original called for extra lemon extract, but I am not a fan of artificial flavorings. With this much flavor from the real thing, who needs it anyway?

Lemon Swirl Cheesecake

Homemade Lemon Curd
1 tsp fresh lemon zest
1/2 cup strained fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1/4 cup butter, cut into small pieces

Vanilla Wafer Almond Crumb Crust
1 1/2 cups vanilla wafer cookie crumbs
3/4 cup finely ground toasted almonds
2 tsp lemon zest
1/8 tsp of salt
7 tbsp butter, melted and cooled

Lemon Cream Cheese Filling
2 (8-oz) packages cream cheese, room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Reserved Lemon Curd (from above)

Prepare Lemon Curd: In a small saucepan, whisk together lemon zest, lemon juice, and sugar. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Lightly beat eggs in a medium bowl. Drizzle in lemon juice slowly, whisking constantly. When all of the lemon juice has been added, return mixture to saucepan. Add butter and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until curd has thickened. Pour lemon curd into a small bowl. Set aside 1/2 cup of Lemon Curd. Press plastic wrap directly onto surfaces of the curd. Cool 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Prepare Vanilla Crumb Crust: In a medium mixing bowl, use a fork to toss together vanilla wafer crumbs, almonds, lemon zest, and salt. Stir in melted butter. Press mixture evenly onto bottom and sides of a 9-inch spring-form pan or pie plate.
Bake for 12 minutes on bottom oven rack. Remove from oven and set aside while filling is prepared.

Prepare Filling: In a medium mixing bowl, beat cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Beat in eggs, one at a time, then add in the sour cream, vanilla extract and all reserved lemon curd (except for the 1/2 cup set aside earlier). Pour into baked crust. Dollop remaining 1/2 cup lemon curd onto filling and swirl through filling using a small knife.
Bake for 30-35 minutes or until center is just set. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack. Cool for 2 hours, then refrigerate for at least 4-6 hours, or overnight.

I served this with real whipped cream, barely sweetened, and a raspberry sauce I made last minute, which really complimented the lemon. I'm sure the lemon can stand up for itself, but I was looking for a little more presentation.

Raspberry sauce: 2 cups frozen raspberries, thawed and mashed and brought to a boil with about 1/2 cup sugar (or to taste). Add a teaspoon or two of cornstarch and stir til smooth, continuing to cook until the sauce has thickened.

Serves 10.

King Arthur, Christmas and Life Callings.

This Christmas, my mom gave me a great treat by taking me to the far side of Vermont to the King Arthur Flour Baker's Store - Yes, an entire store full of baking and kitchen supplies, from specialty flours and grains, stand mixers, their own line of baking pans, herbs, flavorings, aprons... ...and even Himalayan Pink Salt. I read about it once, how the author of this particular book was baffled by the requirement of Himalayan Pink Salt in a recipe- and there it was before my very eyes!

We leisurely strolled through the store... and back through again... mom taking notes of some of the things that caught my eye, then while I went to the bakery to find and consume my first ever genuine croissant (oh my... oh MY.), mom went back and picked up some of the things I liked for my Christmas gifts. This works for mom and myself much better than her trying to secretly figure out what I would like and actually use. Let me just say, the pink salt was NOT on the list; however, the 2 1/4 teaspoon yeast spoon was. Honestly, if you bake a lot of yeast breads, like I do, and buy your yeast in jars, like I do, you'll be surprised at how often you use this little gadget. If you do neither, don't bother with it.

And speaking of gifts for cooks... mom found this picture today. This appears to be my ninth birthday, and I'm quite sure the double-ended rolling pin was a gift I'd requested. It would seem I've been crazy for cooking for some time now! I've moved on to a French rolling pin, but we still have this one. Sadly, just a few months ago the wooden handle gave way and it's now a one-ended rolling pin, but we still use it quite a bit for rolling crusts into pan corners.

With Nana, 1996

Christmas Goody Baskets

For my co-workers this year, I made cookies, candies and bars, wrapped them up in cellophane, tied them with ribbons and handed them over with a smile. It's so much easier than trying to think of something thoughtful, appropriate and un-embarrassing for the cook you work with who happens to be a 20 year old over-grown boy, or a waitress who is a mother of two, lots of fun but I really don't know her on a personal level. Everyone is ready and waiting to eat during the Christmas season, so this is the route I decided to go to show my co-workers I appreciate them.

Raspberry Almond Thumbprints and Fudge Brownies

Melt-In-Your-Mouth Chocolate Truffles

Most of the truffles I've made have been interesting. Making the filling, rolling the filling, trying to figure out just how to temper chocolate. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't; I do not claim to have mastered the art of tempering. Nobody every told me that classic chocolate truffles were one of the simplest things in the world to make. This is an outrage, so I am here to tell YOU!

Chocolate truffles are one of the simplest things in the world to make.

Now you know, so there's no excuse for you to never try them.

I started with a British recipe, and quite frankly, since I have my kitchen scale I really prefer the metric measure system. For your sakes though, I will put it up here with both system measurements as closely as I can figure it.

Chocolate Truffles

1 3/4 C (400 ml) heavy cream, room temperature
1 3/4 C (400 g) very dark chocolate.

Coconut, chopped nuts or cocoa powder

The original recipe called for 70% cocoa chocolate, but I used half 70% (hint: most 70% chocolate bars come in 100 gram bars. Handy!) and half dark chocolate chips because the sugar level would have been too low for me. Also, if you wish to use even lighter chocolate, reduce the amount of cream slightly or it may not end up stiff enough.

Here's what you do:
Melt the chocolate in a double boiler, or in the microwave with reduced power level so it won't burn. Using electric beaters or a whisk, gradually beat the cream into the chocolate a little at a time, fully combining each addition before adding more cream. Cover with plastic wrap and chill thoroughly, at least 2 hours.

Using a melon-baller or a small food scoop like the one from Pampered Chef, scoop out balls of the thickened chocolate and roll in coconut, chopped nuts or cocoa powder. Try to handle them with your finger tips, using your palms as little as possible. Also, rinsing your hands with cold water before you start might help keep them from starting to melt as you work with them. I would keep the truffles covered in the fridge until 1/2 hour or so before serving, or if you have a cooler room in your house that would do. Just know that they get very soft in a toasty warm room.

Lemon Bars

A classic.

So simple.

Highly addictive.

Try them if you dare.

Lemon Bars

Preheat oven to 375*

1 1/2 C flour
2/3 C confectioner's sugar
3/4 C butter, softened

Cream together and pat into greased 13"X9" pan. Bake 20 minutes until slightly golden. While its baking, prepare the filling.

3 eggs
1 1/2 C sugar
2 Tbs flour
1/4 C lemon juice

Whisk everything together until frothy. Pour over the hot crust, and return to oven to bake an additional 20-25 minutes until light golden. Cool on a wire rack. Dust with confectioner's sugar. Cut into squares to serve.

Speckled Biscotti

I've experienced biscotti in a number of places; coffee shops where they are individually wrapped in cellophane and so dry they shatter with every bite that isn't dunked, at a part where one of the guests brought a strangely sweet and nearly sticky biscotti (if it could be called that)... but I have yet to find anything named biscotti that I would chose to eat over this recipe. I came across it three years ago and return to it again and again for me favorite dunking dessert! Be it coffee, cocoa or tea (my choice) it'll warm the winter blues.

Pictured in a Christmas gift basket

Preheat oven to 350*

4 1/2 A flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 C sugar
2/3 C vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1/2 C sour cream
1/2 C lightly chopped pecans
1/2 C semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips
1/2 C dried cranberries, or dried berries of choice (cherries, blueberries, etc)

Sift together first four ingredients. In a separate bowl, beat the sugar, oil and eggs until blended. Gradually add flour mixture alternately with portions of the sour cream, beginning and ending with flour mixture. This will make a very stiff batter. Add the nuts and fruit and stir in as well as you can before turning dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead until the fruit and nuts are well distributed. Divide dough into 3 equal portions and shape into 14" 'logs'. These will be roughly 4" wide and 1/2" thick. The dough doesn't spread much during baking and you don't want to end up with short biscotti. Place logs several inches apart on greased baking sheets and bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and reduce heat to 300*. Let the biscotti cool on the pan 30 minutes, then transfer to a cutting board. Slice the biscotti diagonally in 3/4" wide slices. Return to baking sheets and bake 15 to 20 minutes longer, until firm. Let cool on wire racks. Drizzle with melted chocolate, if desired.