Friday, October 30, 2009

Fantasmas Dulces [Ghost Sweets]

I first saw these on 101 Cookbooks, but I've since seen them so many other places that I don't know who deserves the credit. All I know is that they amuse me every time I make them.

Mine are flavored with HerbSaint, an absinthe clone from Louisiana that imparts a nice anise flavor often found in Mexican baked goods. I even used anise seed for the eyes; their tiny stems look like wild eyebrows... which, of course, doesn't make sense. Why would a ghost have eyebrows?

I included my recipe after the jump but you should use whatever meringue recipe works for you. Some people go nuts about meringue specifics, but I've found they're not that fussy if you use enough sugar.

Recipe: Fantasmas Dulces [Ghost Sweets]
You can swap vanilla or almond extract for the Herb Saint. I've also made these with black sesame seeds, silver dragoons, or mini chocolate chips for the eyes.

Yield: ~36 ghosts
3 egg whites (room temperature)
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 tsp Herb Saint or Pernod
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup powdered sugar

anise seeds to garnish

Preheat oven to 225F. [Put your whites in your mixing bowl and leave them near the stove until they're room temp.] Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and fill a small bowl with anise seedsWhisk the two sugars together and set aside.

Add salt and liquor to whites. Using a whisk attachment, whip whites on low speed until foamy on top, ~1 minute. Increase speed to high and whip until soft peaks form, ~45 seconds. With the machine running, pour in sugar in a steady stream. Once mostly combined, stop the mixer, scrape down the sides of the bowl, and whip again on high speed until stiff peaks form, ~45 seconds more. Spoon into a pastry bag [without a tip] or a gallon ziploc [cut a corner off the bag when you're ready].

Pipe ghost shapes as 3 stacked mounds. [imperfections = personality] Use your finger to place the eyes. Bake 1 hour, turn oven off, and leave for another 1-3 hours or until stiff to the touch. If it humid, transfer immediately to an airtight container.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Texas Pecans

I was going to do a post on my goat milk caramels (cajetas) but I hit a little snag on the second batch that I can't quite explain and I don't want to give bad instructions.

Instead, let me say that Texas pecans are fantastic: big, buttery, and amazing when toasted and added to baked goods or eaten straight out of the shell. [Pecans, a member of the hickory family, are the only tree nuts or drupes native to the US.] There's even a bakery around the corner from me here in Yankee Land that boasts about its use of Texas pecans, so they must be the best, right? The harvest is just coming in and you can get them cracked in the shell now through the beginning of January.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Cocoa Powder: Go Dutch

Things are a bit pricier in Yankee Land. I tried to be frugal when I replenished my pantry upon arrival, but I've since reaffirmed that some things are worth the price when you're dedicated to food that tastes as good as possible.
Case in point: A few weeks into our adventure, JG made the comment that the biscotti we always have around weren't quite as good as they used to be. I knew they weren't and I knew why: store-brand cocoa powder. Dutched cocoa powder has a much stronger chocolate flavor [due to an acid neutralization process created by a Dutch man] and gives baked goodies a deeper color.
It's a few dollars more than Hershey's or store brand, but a bag or box lasts a while -- even for me -- and if you're going to use it as a primary ingredient to bind a cake together, it's better if it tastes great. I would even choose a cheaper Dutched cocoa over a premium non-alkalized cocoa.
So there.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Gluten-Free Chocolate Pesos

Today's JG's birthday, so I made a cupcake variant for his lab. At least one of the people in his group is the non-gluten type, so it seemed like a good time to practice GF-friendly baking. I considered one of the angel food variations, but ultimately decided to try something a little different.
[JG kindly supplied me with a photo in situ]

This is a take on a French tea cake called a financier because they resemble gold bars. They use ground nuts and usually some flour; once I ground almonds and substituted cocoa powder, I was just a tablespoon of cinnamon away from Mexican chocolate... then baking them in a mini muffin pan turned them into pesos.

I did this the first time like a chiffon and whipped the whites. I tried it again without whipping and the difference in rise wasn't too significant and I only got one piece of equipment dirty, so I'm posting the easy version with a variation for over-achievers.

Recipe: GF Chocolate Pesos
(or Mexican chocolate financiers)
Yield: 2 dozen mini muffin-sized coins [possibly one 9-inch cake layer?]
You don't have to brown the butter, but it's part of the classic financier preparation and adds a nice caramel-nutty note. If you want to whip the whites separately, transfer the rest of the mix to a big bowl after step 2. Whip whites, and incorporate 1/3 at a time.

1/2 cup roasted almonds (or ~1/3 cup almond meal)
1/2 cup dutch-process cocoa powder
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
4 tablespoons butter, browned and cooled slightly
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 egg whites, room temp*

powdered sugar and/or sesame seeds to garnish

1. Preheat oven to 350F. [You can set the mixing bowl with egg whites near the oven to warm, just check to make sure it doesn’t get too hot.] Line the bottom of whatever pan you’ll use with parchment paper, or use muffin cups.
2. Process almonds with other dry ingredients until no large chunks remain ~30 seconds. Add butter and vanilla and pulse until crumbly and evenly moist.
3. Whisk whites with a fork until foamy. Add to chocolate and process until evenly batter-like.
4. Pour into prepared pan, filling almost to the top. [Optional: sprinkle with sesame seeds and a little sugar to form a crust.] Bake ~20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
5. Cool until pan is no longer too hot to handle. Use a sharp knife to cut around the edges of the cakes and turn out. Dust with powdered sugar.

*I made mayo with leftover yolks:
4 yolks
2 tablespoons lemon juice or vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup neutral oil (canola or non-extra-virgin olive)

Slowly whisk oil into yolks/acid. Start with a few drops at a time and gradually increase to a steady stream. Once emulsified, adjust salt and add pepper to taste.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

My oven is calling you...

It was snowing yesterday morning here in Yankee Land.

While I waited for the bus (no snow-biking for me, thanks) it occurred to me that since I plan to keep my oven and stove on at all times to make my kitchen cozy, I should offer my recipe tweaking services to those who have recipes they only use for certain food festivities -- ones that could use a little updating but you don't make often enough to warrant the effort.

Personally, I've been thinking of recreating green bean casserole, but I just haven't done it... and last year's cherry pie experiments still need more work.

My kitchen and I are at your service.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Fat-Free Butterscotch Syrup?

Is that possible? Using real butter?

Yes. Yes, it is.

It's dipping into the warm drink zone here in Yankee Land. We have a particular favorite to coincide with the beginning of apple cider season: ButterBeer.

Yes, this is the name of a drink from the Harry Potter series. We first had it at an Alamo Drafthouse screening and the server described it at spiced cider, butterscotch syrup, and a shot of rum. [I imagine it's a take off of a Betty Crocker-type butter rum cider.] We've bought Monin syrup and made it that way, but I dislike ingredients called "butterscotch flavor." Real butterscotch sauce isn't hard to make, -- butter, brown sugar, cream -- and substituting water for heavy cream makes it a syrup instead of a sauce. I also happen to know a secret for taking the fat out of butter in a syrup base.

You ready?

Recipe: Butterscotch Syrup
yields~1 cup

1/4 c (4T) butter
1/2 c brown sugar
pinch of salt
1/2 c water
1/2 tsp vanilla

Melt butter until foamy with first hint of browning. [If it starts to smell burned, it is. Dump it and start over.] Whisk in sugar and stir occasionally until sugar dissolves and mixture is bubbly. Slowly pour in water while whisking continuously. The mixture will foam and sputter. Don't flinch.

Pour into a heatproof bowl or measuring cup (Pyrex is good) and stir in vanilla. Freeze until butterfat forms a solid layer on top. Scrape off the fat and store for another unwholesome purpose or discard. Let syrup come to room temp, if sugar is still grainy, bring to a boil again (nuke) until sugar dissolves completely. [It shouldn’t be, but these things sometimes happen.]

Bottle syrup and store in the refrigerator. [I have squeeze bottles, but you can reuse a [clean] honey or maple syrup bottle]

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Potato Salad Pizza

JG and I finally made this sweet potato & black bean salad and I will now be bringing it to any and all barbeques I attend. It's absolutely my type of potato salad, and we're now considering variations like yellow bell/white bean/mint.

The leftovers also make great pizza topping, just add sliced moz and minced garlic.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Whiskey Oatmeal Cookies

One more variation, then we move on to other fun things...
1 recipe Butter Rum Cookies with amendments and substitutions:
** Do not process oatmeal, mix all by hand or in standing mixer
** Use whiskey and amaretto for alcohol component

Fold in 1/2 cup prunes, chopped, or raisins. Bake as directed.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Chocolate Sunflower Cookies

This variation was inspired by a bowl of chocolate/candy-covered sunflower seeds at a checkout counter. They were tasty -- so are these cookies. I pressed the seeds into both sides so the bottoms have a nice crunch. I considered arranging the seeds in a sunflower pattern, but the chocolate chunks made it too tricky and I was loathe to omit the chocolate.
Variation: Chocolate Sunflower Cookies
You can use a booze-free chocolate chip recipe if you're baking with children.

1 batch Butter Rum Cookies
~3/4 cup dark chocolate, roughly chopped, or a bag of chocolate chips
~ 3/4 cup roasted, salted sunflower seeds

Preheat oven to 375F. Fold chocolate into cookie dough. Roll or scoop into smaller-than-a-ping-pong-ball and drop into a bowl full of sunflower seeds. Press the dough into the seeds, flip, and press again. Transfer to a baking sheet and repeat with remaining dough. Bake 12-15 minutes or until the edges brown. [It takes 14 minutes in my oven.] Cool until chocolate resolidifies, then store in an airtight container.