Monday, January 26, 2009

Whiskey Marshmallows

I learned to make marshmallows recently. My first attempts were more like taffy... unimpressive, to say the least. My pastry guru was kind enough to give me his recipe, but his -- while truly creating everything you want a marshmallow to be -- uses corn syrup to guarantee stability. I decided to omit it, upping the sugar and water instead. Then I decided to add my favorite flavoring (rye whiskey) because I like a little booze in my cocoa. It actually added floral note, like orange blossom water, with just a hint of burn. The only problem was my powdered sugar. It didn't look particularly dry, but once I dredged my marshmallows, it stuck in little nuggets.
Still, JG was blown away... and then sad that eating too many of these would probably turn him into a diabetic before he's 40. Be warned: Once you've tasted homemade marshmallows, it's hard to accept jet-puffed corn syrup ever again.

Recipe: Whiskey Marshmallows

The recipe looks complicated, but only because it's best to have everything set up and ready to go when you need it. Gelatin sheets can be found at bake shops and maybe restaurant supply stores. You can use unflavored powdered gelatin (like Knox) instead. In a separate bowl, combine 3 tbs with 1/2 cup water to bloom, then add the entire contents to the mixer after the syrup. If you haven't used your powdered sugar in a while, be sure to sift out any hard lumps.

5 sheets of gelatine
2 1/2 cups sugar
1/3 cup water
3 egg whites
2 tbs whiskey (or other liquor)
1 tsp vanilla (or orange blossom water, bitters, peppermint liqueur, etc)
1/2 tsp salt
spray oil
powdered sugar, sifted

To prepare:

Bring egg whites to room temp in the bowl of a standing mixer.
Bloom gelatine sheets in ice water until pliable ~ 5-7 minutes. Remove from water, squeeze out excess and set aside.
Meanwhile, add water, then sugar to a medium saucepan*. Let sit to allow the sugar to hydrate ~5 minutes.
Pick your pan.** Line with plastic wrap, spray with cooking spray and dust thoroughly with powdered sugar.
Measure out flavorings and set aside.

To make:
Bring the sugar to boil over medium-high heat. [If you have a candy thermometer, you can clip it to the side now, but don't be tempted to check it with an instant read later... you'll crystallize the sugar.] Once the sugar begins to boil, start whipping your eggs whites. Begin on low speed until foamy, [just like the angle food cakes!] then move up to maximum speed. When peaks form, turn the mixer off and wait for the syrup. You want to take the syrup off just before it caramelizes. This will take about 10 minutes. If you've got a candy thermometer (I don't), you want it to reach 250F. Otherwise, you want to wait until the bubbles get up to an inch across before they pop and the syrup just starts to get a hint of a golden color.

Turn off heat and turn the mixer on high. Holding the pot above the mixer (don't tip it in at the lip of the bowl), stream the syrup directly into the egg whites. As soon as the syrup's in the bowl (some will stick to the pot) throw the bloomed gelatine into mixer to melt. Continue mixing on high until it looks like marshmallow fluff ~8 minutes. Add salt and drizzle in flavorings, continue mixing until stiff peaks form and you can turn the bowl upside down without the marshmallow sliding out.

Spray a spatula with cooking spray and use it to scrape the bowl into your prepared pan. Smooth out as much as possible with spatula, then spray top of marshmallow with cooking spray and smooth out with your hands [careful, it's hot!]. Dust heavily with powdered sugar and cover with plastic wrap, smoothing top once more.

Give the gelatine at least 6 hours to set, then turn out onto a cutting board and cut to your desired size with a hot knife. You can also coat the knife with cooking spray, but you have to be very careful not to get your handle greasy or you might lose a toe. Fill your pan 1/4" full of powdered sugar and dredge your marshmallows, making sure all sides are coated. They're ready to go at this point, although they're better if you give them another 6 hours for the edges to dry out.

Store in an airtight container.

*It's better if it's not non-stick because the dark interior makes it harder to judge the color... plus the syrup's going to stick a bit anyway. Hot water will dissolve it no matter what pan it's in.
** A 9x13 yields marshmallows ~1/2" thick. If you want bigger ones, use an 8x8. If you want thinner ones (for mini-marshmallows) use a half-sheet or jellyroll pan.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Angel Food Cake

My brother told me my mom wanted Angel Food cake for her birthday. I'd never made one, but I'm pretty good with folding meringues, so I thought I could give it a shot. I ended up giving it 8 shots.
I looked at several recipes and was amazed by how little flour was actually used: 3/4 cup cake flour to 12 whites and 1 1/2 cups sugar. Surely the soft wheat flour wasn't providing that much structure, so why not try alternatives? I made 7 half-recipes before selecting my final blend.***
The variations were:
cake flour -- as a baseline
whole wheat pastry flour
oat flour
buckwheat flour
cocoa powder
whole-wheat pastry flour plus gluten
rice flour

As you can see in the pictures, most of them fell... but I'm unwilling to blame the flours. I kept taking them out of the pans before they were completely cool because I couldn't start the next round until I emptied the pans [who knew 2 tube pans wouldn't be enough?].
My favorite, flavor-wise, was the buckwheat. It had great tang. Other tasters preferred the honey notes of the oat flour, but the texture on that one was crumbly. The 100% cocoa powder turned into the best fat-free brownie ever. [more experiments are in order there.]
The rice flour version looked identical to the cake flour one, i.e. just like you'd buy at the grocery store, but the texture was a little rice-floury. I don't think white rice flour is particularly more healthful than cake flour, but it is gluten-free... I didn't have any brown rice flour on hand. The whole-wheat pastry was pretty neutral, but the crumb wasn't quite as spongy as it should be and I wanted to make a cake that wasn't obviously different. I mean, my family knows about my recipe tinkering, but I didn't want it to become "that health-food angel-food cake Maria made that time" in family lore.
Recipe: Angel Food Cake
The final verdict was to keep at least 1/4 cup cake flour. If I have occasion to make another, I think I'll do equal parts wwp/cake/buckwheat, because I think it'd be awesome with strawberries... although the oat flour did make for a pretty great angel food/shortcake hybrid.

12 egg whites, room temp
1 tsp cream of tartar
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/4 cup sugar [divided use]
1/2 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
1/4 cup cake flour
1 tbs vital wheat gluten

1 1/2 tsp lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp vanilla^^
1/2 tsp almond^^

Preheat oven to 350F. Use an ungreased tube pan and trace the outside of it onto parchment paper, cut out, fold in quarters, and cut the tip back to the radius of the center tube. Drop it inside the pan, trimming as necessary.

Whisk egg whites on low until foamy ~3 minutes or so. While this is going, sift together flours, gluten, and remaining 1/2 c sugar. Add tartar and salt to the whites and bump up the speed a notch. Once incorporated, slowly, slowly pour in 3/4 cup sugar and whisk until dissolved. Switch to highest speed and whip until soft peaks form. [The tip should make a "Dairy Queen" curl instead of sticking straight up. If you accidentally take it to firm peaks, it's okay, the cake just won't rise as much.] Add lemon and extracts and whip until whites return to soft peaks. Sift 1/3 flour mix over whites and gently fold. Repeat two more times. Spoon into ungreased tube pan and shake a little to distribute evenly. Bake 1 hour or until the top springs when pressed, i.e. you can press the top without the crust breaking under your fingers. Carefully remove from oven, invert and suspend over a wine bottle or place on a cooling rack over an oven burner (w.o. pilot) until completely cool ~2-3 hours. Seriously. Don't cut it out at 1.5 hours. It made my heart hurt when it deflated -- every time because I refused to learn my lesson.

Once completely cool, flip upright and run a serrated knife around the edge and center cone. Flip back onto a cooling rack or serving plate. Peel off parchment and serve with your choice of toppings.

^^ I wanted to keep everything the same except the flours, so I didn't play with this. The acid in the lemon juice helps set the whites, but the extract combination tastes exactly like you'd expect angel food cake to taste. By the second batch I really wanted to replace the almond with herbsaint or chartreuse. I think it'd be great to sub rum or brandy for the entire amount and use it for an English Trifle in place of pound cake... or reduce the vanilla and add 1/2 tsp orange blossom water and top the cake with grilled pineapple. Ooh, yeah. Let's do that next.
***You may ask, "Where does one get enough egg whites to make 4.5 full angel food cakes without having 54 yolks to spare? " In this case it pays to know pastry chefs, especially ones that make custards and ice creams. They use lots of yolks and often store away their whites without any specific purpose, just because they hate to waste them... although they often don't use them and they go bad and have to be thrown out anyway. I made sure the leftovers from all the New Year's pastries didn't go to waste.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Zilker Swans

At least one pair of swans on Lady Bird Lake have a little game going. They hang out at the shore of Auditorium Shores (a leash-free area) and bait the dogs. They hiss and flap until one ventures into the water, then they swim away from shore until the dog turns back, then chase the dog back to shore.
They'll do this circle to and from the shore until the dog tires out and gives up. The swans may not do it with more aggressive dogs, but The Stink Factor's been playing with them for over a year now.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Chicken Posole

It's chilly today. Tomorrow it'll be back in the 60s, but today was cold and wet... the perfect day for chicken soup, Austin-style. Posole [or pozole] is dried giant corn (hominy) but when people talk about "posole", they usually mean posole soup. The traditional preparation -- by way of the conquistadors -- is with pork and red chiles, but I've only ever eaten chicken posole, either made by a friend's mother or at my favorite breakfast place. After becoming obsessed with it a while back, I decided I needed to learn how to make it myself. It's stupidly easy and, I think, the best chicken soup ever. It's rich tasting but lean and pleasantly filling; the crunchy veggies, cilantro, and the squeeze of lime make for great flavor and textural contrasts. I've always wanted to try it truly from scratch using the giant dried kernels, but canned hominy is so convenient I've never actually bothered. Even you New Englanders will be able to find all the ingredients for this recipe...
Recipe: Chicken Posole, Pozole con Pollo
I usually throw in cut up chicken pieces and shred them, but you can also dice raw boneless skinless breasts and/or thighs and brown them with the onions. I've never tried it, but I'm sure it would work just as well to dump all the ingredients in the slow cooker on low when you get up the morning... the posole might break down too much, though. You could wait to add that at the end -- it's already soft; it just needs to warm through. I didn't have any cabbage on hand this time, so I shredded some purple baby bok choy from my garden. It was tasty, but I missed the cold crunch from the cabbage.

6-8 servings

2 tsp olive oil
~1 lb chicken (about half a chicken), cut up... or cubed boneless breasts or thighs
6 cups water
4 cups chicken stock
2 large white or yellow onions, diced
8 garlic cloves, minced
2 cans (~32 oz total) white or yellow hominy, drained and rinsed
1 Tbs dried oregano (preferably Mexican, Greek is fine)
2 bay leaves
1 tsp dried thyme
salt to taste (~2 tsp, depending on whether you use a salty stock)

Garnish Options:
lime wedges
shredded green cabbage
sliced radishes
chopped fresh cilantro
sliced avocado
a dash of Cholula or Tabasco

Heat oil in a large Dutch oven or heavy stockpot over medium-high heat. Add onions and chicken, stirring occasionally, until onions are soft and chicken is somewhat browned, ~10 minutes. Using tongs, blot chicken and onions with paper towel to absorb accumulated fat. Discard towel. Add garlic, stirring frequently until fragrant, ~1 minute, then add liquids, scraping bottom of the pan to loosen the browned bits (fond). Add salt and dried herbs. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat to simmer, covered, for 1- 1.5 hours or until chicken begins to fall apart, stirring occasionally. If the chicken is bone-in, remove to another bowl using a slotted spoon, allow to cool enough to handle, shred, and return to pot. Add drained posole, return to a simmer and check for seasoning before ladling into individual bowls. While soup is heating for the final time, prepare topping options in separate small dishes so everyone can garnish as they so choose.

Use your post-holiday turkey carcass for pozole con pavo
Use 1 lb pork butt, cubed, in place of chicken and add 1 tbs of mild chili powder with the herbs for pozole con puerco Deglaze pan with 1/4 cup white wine before adding water/stock.

Use a whole chicken:
Break down a chicken into breasts, thighs and legs. Snap carcass into manageable pieces with kitchen scissors. Boil carcass, uncovered, in 8 cups of water for 1 hour or until it begins to break apart [or pressure cook with 4 cups of water for 20 minutes]. Skim fat and strain out solids. Either measure out remaining liquid and add enough water to equal the 10 cups total for the normal recipe [using about half of your meat] or increase liquid to 16 cups total and use all of your meat, doubling remaining ingredients. Add up to 2 more cups of water with the hominy if the soup isn't soup-y enough.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

JG's Lucky Peas

This one I can't take any credit for. JG picked me up from work at midnight last night. In the car was a steamy container of black-eyed peas he'd made for luck [a southern tradition]. They were so good I ate more than half the container on the ride home. Happy New Year!
Recipe: JG's Lucky Black-Eyed Peas

2 tsp olive oil
3 T [~1 oz] cubed ham
1 shallot, sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 16 oz can black-eyed peas
1/2 cup water
1 pickled jalepeno, sliced
1/2 tsp cumin, toasted and ground
4 allspice berries, ground [~1/4-1/2 tsp]
salt to taste

In a small saucepan, heat oil over medium high heat and brown ham with shallots. [Ham occasionally explodes at high heat; a splatter guard is highly recommended.] Add beans--with canning liquid--and water, stirring to scrape up any stuck bits [
fond] from the bottom. Add pepper and spices, then salt to taste. Lower heat to a simmer and stir occasionally for 10-15 minutes or until thickened slightly. Serve over rice or quinoa or with a side of tortilla chips or crackers.