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applesauce cake

adapted from Gale Gand's Applesauce Cake 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened to room temperature 2 cups brown sugar (dark or light), ...

Friday, June 03, 2011

cinnamon-raisin bread pudding made with pan dulce (bonus! caramel recipe)

pan dulce can be used to make very good bread pudding -- the textures and flavors are very well-suited. I like to buy a variety of different conchas (chocolate, cinnamon, anise -- they're fairly subtle in flavor) specifically for bread pudding, and allow them to get a bit dried-out in the refrigerator for a few days. sometimes I augment the pastries with plain white bread if I don't have enough on hand. in this recipe, the measurements for pan dulces and bread are flexible -- any ratio will do, as long as you keep the total volume the same (I'll measure the volume of torn pastry/bread pieces next time I make this recipe). if you have only fresh pan dulce or bread and don't want to wait days to make this pudding, just toast the pieces lightly in the oven at about 250°F for 10 minutes or so. you don't want them to get browned, just a bit dry to ensure a bread pudding with the proper texture -- firm, but not dry; definitely not goopy or wet. below, I've also included my recipe-in-progress for caramel sauce, which is quite scrumptious drizzled generously over bread pudding or just about anything else.

4 pan dulces, torn into pieces approximately 1" on all sides (torn pieces are more aesthetically appealing to me than slices or cut cubes, but won't affect the final outcome, so tear, slice or cut as you prefer)
1 thick slice plain white bread, torn into pieces (same size as pan dulce pieces)
1 cup golden raisins
3 tablespoons cinnamon
2 cups milk
2 cups cream
2/3 cup dark brown sugar, packed (increase to 3/4 cup if using plain white bread only)
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (I use Mexican vanilla; bourbon or other liqueur also works well)
2 tablespoons softened butter

preheat oven to 350°F. butter a medium-large covered baking dish (if you don't have a covered baking dish of the proper size, you can cover your dish tightly with foil). scatter half of the pan dulce and/or bread pieces in the dish, sprinkle with half of the cinnamon and half of the raisins, then repeat. thoroughly whisk together the milk, cream, sugar, salt, eggs and vanilla (or liqueur) in a large bowl and pour evenly over all, pressing down with a slotted spoon to ensure all the pastry and/or pieces are soaked. dot the top of the pudding with the softened butter, cover with lid or foil, and bake for 25 minutes. remove cover or foil and continue to bake for about 20 more minutes, until the top of the bread pudding is golden brown and center is firm (a toothpick inserted in center should come out clean).

the above bread pudding is *very* good served with caramel sauce. I'm working on perfecting my sauce recipe; in the meantime, here's the recipe-in-progress, which produces caramel candy when cooled. my goal is to produce a thick caramel syrup when cooled. however, this caramel is delicious, and is the perfect texture when warm. more notes: candy-making is basically kitchen chemistry; the temperatures specified are very important, and I've found it essential to use a candy thermometer. many cookbooks and websites describe various methods for testing the sugar syrup to determine the stage (thread, soft-ball, firm-ball, etc.), but I've gotten the best results when using a candy thermometer. it's also important to be aware that you'll be working with VERY hot sugar syrup (which can produce severe burns), so take all necessary precautions: turn all saucepan handles in so they don't protrude where the pan could easily be knocked over; let other people in the house know what you're doing so they'll be careful around the stove, etc. that said, candy-making is a great way to watch physics/chemistry in action as sugar syrup changes physical states, browning reactions take place, etc., so I think it's good to encourage those who are interested to watch and participate. enough warnings -- *do* try making this; it's a lot of fun!

2 cups white sugar
2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup invert sugar syrup (sugar syrup boiled to the soft ball stage with a bit of cream of tartar or lemon juice, which will convert it to glucose & sucrose -- check this link for a detailed recipe) OR corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (again, I use Mexican vanilla; you can also substitute bourbon or any other liqueur)

place sugar, cream, invert sugar syrup (or corn syrup) and salt in a large saucepan -- make sure it's deep enough that the mixture can boil up to well over twice the original volume without boiling over. stir over medium heat until sugar is dissolved. when mixture comes to a boil, stop stirring if you haven't already. clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan, immersing bulb in the boiling liquid (and ensuring that the bulb is not touching the bottom of the pan). adjust heat down to medium-low -- keep it boiling, but not boiling over. continue to cook until mixture reaches 235°F - 240°F -- this will take a while, as the sugar syrup is passing through several phases to reach the "soft ball" stage. at the same time, the proteins in the cream are undergoing the Maillard Reaction, which you can observe directly as it turns a creamy golden brown in color. when the mixture reaches the proper temperature, turn off the heat, remove the candy thermometer, add the vanilla (without stirring), cover the pan and remove from the burner. allow it to cool for a few minutes, then stir in the vanilla. spoon a bit out, make sure it's not too hot and taste. the mixture should be nicely thickened and deliciously caramel-y. use it warm to drizzle over the bread pudding (or any other dessert). you can also *pour it into a buttered glass dish, cover with buttered wax paper and refrigerate to cut into caramel candies, or you can *pour it into a jar to keep for future use -- you'll have to warm it up to scoop it out. *note: when pouring caramel, DO pour while it's still quite warm. do NOT scrape the sides of the pan with a spatula or spoon to get it all out -- the mixture that adheres to the sides of the pan can contain sugar crystals that can ruin your entire batch of caramel. AFTER pouring, feel free to scoop any remaining syrup and use it immediately over your dessert, nom it straight off the spoon, etc.; just don't include it with any caramel you store.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

orange-berry buttermilk muffins

2 large eggs
1/2 - 3/4 cup sugar (to your taste)
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup melted unsalted butter
1-1/2 tablespoons citrus zest (tangerine zest is especially good, but orange, lemon or lime zest will also work quite well)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups AP flour
1-1/2 cups fresh or frozen berries (raspberries, blueberries or blackberries, or a combination)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

preheat oven to 400°F. line twelve muffin cups with paper liners. lightly beat eggs and sugar together in a large bowl, then add buttermilk, melted butter, citrus zest and salt. add flour one cup at a time and mix until just combined (don't overmix!). stir in baking soda until distributed throughout (batter will start to inflate a bit at this point). gently fold in berries with a spatula. divide batter equally among prepared muffin cups; bake for 20-25 minutes. muffins are done when tops are golden-brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out perfectly clean. cool on racks.

*notes: if you don't have buttermilk on hand, you can substitute milk soured with citrus juice (place 1 tablespoon fresh citrus juice in a measuring cup and add regular milk to reach the 1-cup mark) or yogurt thinned with a bit of milk or water. another option is to use regular milk, and replace the 1/2 teaspoon baking soda with 2 teaspoons baking powder, but the muffins won't be quite as yummy nor will they be as tender as those made with buttermilk.

I made a batch of these this morning with tangerine zest and frozen organic blueberries, and I don't care if this is considered bragging -- they're delicious. I didn't have my muffin tin handy when I first experimented with this recipe, so I placed all of the batter into a buttered glass loaf pan. I reduced the heat to 375°F and the loaf browned just a bit before it was completely done inside; next time I'll try baking at 365°F. finally (perhaps needless to say), I used my homemade butter and buttermilk when baking these, but the commercial versions will work just as well.

Monday, March 14, 2011

ropa vieja

I adhere pretty closely to the spirit of the original version of this recipe, which was passed down to me years ago.

2-1/2 - 3 pounds flank steak, skirt steak or chuck roast, cut into roughly 2" inch chunks
salt and pepper
3-4 bay leaves
water to cover by at least one inch

lightly salt and pepper the chunks of beef. place in a heavy dutch oven with the bay leaves and cover with water by about 1/2". bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for about 1-1/2 hours.

4 cloves garlic, chopped finely or crushed

add the garlic to the beef and continue to simmer for another hour, until beef is very tender. using a slotted spoon, remove chunks of beef to a plate and refrigerate for a bit until cool enough to handle.

1 - 2  cups dry sherry
20-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1-1/2 tablespoons sweet smoked paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin

add sherry, tomatoes, paprika and cumin to the cooking liquid. raise the heat to high and reduce the cooking liquid by half, until the consistency is syrup-y. in the meantime, prepare the rajas:

3-4 large poblanos, peeled, roasted and cut into thin strips
2 white onions, cut into thin half-moon slices
2 cloves garlic, chopped finely or crushed
extra virgin olive oil to saute
a bit of sherry to deglaze

saute the poblanos over medium-high heat for 5-10 minutes and add to the reduced cooking liquid. caramelize the onions for over medium heat for 15-20 minutes, turn heat to low and add the garlic. continue to cook for a few minutes, then deglaze with a bit of sherry and add to the cooking liquid, which is now a sauce.

remove the cooked beef from the refrigerator and shred by hand, removing any fatty or gristle-y bits. add the shredded beef to the simmering sauce. after 10-15 minutes, you can start to skim off excess fat as it settles on top.

2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 clove garlic, chopped VERY finely or crushed
salt and pepper to taste

add sugar and garlic, and continue cooking for about 10 minutes. taste and correct seasoning with salt and pepper. serve over garlic mashed potatoes, rice, noodles or sourdough bread, with a green salad. unbelievably delicious.

Friday, March 04, 2011

rice pudding (made w/Japanese sweet rice)

I first posted this recipe in February of 2007. I've made it many times since then and still love it; I've adjusted the recipe ever-so-slightly in the interim. I usually use sweet brown rice (of the Japanese variety), but the white version is also great. it uses very little added sugar; the rice is truly what makes it sweet (not TOO sweet) and also thickens the milk nicely.

I use a neuro-fuzzy-logic rice cooker to make rice and rice pudding, so I’m afraid that my instructions are specific to this piece of kitchen equipment. you could probably cook the rice in water on top of the stove, then bake it in a covered casserole in the oven for about an hour to approximate the same thing, but I wouldn’t know for sure.

rice pudding

1 cup (8 ounces, not a smaller rice-cooker cup) uncooked Japanese sweet rice, either brown or white (sometimes called mochigome or sho-chiku-bai)
dash of salt
water to cook

combine the rice and salt in the rice cooker bowl, and add the amount of water called for by your rice cooker. cook on the appropriate cycle (brown or white, depending on what kind of rice you used), and when finished, take the cooking bowl out of the cooker and let it cool a bit.

2-1/2 cups whole milk (set 1/2 cup aside)
1/2 - 1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon salt
2-3 tablespoons brown sugar or maple syrup
1/2 cup currants
to serve: a bit of butter and extra brown sugar or maple syrup to taste

stir the milk, cinnamon, salt, brown sugar (or maple syrup) and currants in to the rice in the bowl. taste and adjust seasoning, if needed. pop the bowl back into the rice cooker and set it for the porridge cycle. mine’s done when the little song plays! add the reserved 1/2 cup of milk after the cooking's done and adjust for salt. serve with butter and brown sugar &/or maple syrup as desired.

note: any other dried fruit can substitute for the currants -- cherries are nice, and would make the pudding especially delicious if topped with toasted, slivered almonds at the end. if I wanted rice pudding with fresh fruit (like berries, bananas, etc.), I'd make a different version with vanilla, a bit of nutmeg and maybe an egg, minus cinnamon and currants, and serve the fruit over the pudding when it's done (rather than cooking it). I'll work on that recipe soon. ha! "work."

Saturday, January 01, 2011

buttermilk cornbread

this yummy cornbread has been my favorite way of using up all the buttermilk I produce when making butter (see here for my previous post re: homemade butter). speaking of buttermilk: I do think there's a difference between the cultured skim-milk "buttermilk" that's available at the store vs. the real thing, which is the liquid I drain after I churn cultured cream into butter. I like the flavor of real buttermilk, and its consistency is different -- it's thinner than store-bought; just a little bit thicker than fresh milk. the lactic acid content is similar to the store-bought stuff, because I always culture cream before making butter: culturing cream introduces a compound called diacetyl, which is very buttery in flavor. theoretically, real buttermilk may make baked goods more tender, the theory being that certain emulsifiers being released when fat globules in cream are disturbed by churning. all that said: store-bought buttermilk, regular yogurt thinned w/milk to the consistency of buttermilk, or fresh milk with 1/2 teaspoon of white vinegar or lemon juice added -- all work beautifully in this recipe; you'll be happy with the texture, rise and flavor of this perfectly balanced cornbread. note: there's sugar in this recipe because I like my cornbread a bit sweet, but if you don't like it, leave it out and reduce the salt by about half.

preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup brown sugar (any kind of granulated sugar will do)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt (or a little less, depending on taste)
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1-1/2 cups cornmeal (Bob's Red Mill Medium Grind Cornmeal is my favorite)
1 cup all purpose flour

butter a cast iron skillet or a 9-inch square baking pan, and put in oven while preheating. combine the butter, sugar, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. crack in the eggs and pour in the buttermilk, then whisk thoroughly to combine. add the cornmeal and flour to the mixture, and whisk just until combined. remove pan from oven and pour in the batter (using a spatula to get every bit into the pan). tap gently to level it, then bake for 25 - 30 minutes, until center is set, and a wooden toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

possible additions/alterations: I love to add freshly-ground black pepper and a few shots of Tabasco. also, I've substituted olive oil for up to 75% of the melted butter with no problems (it just tastes less buttery, but the buttermilk provides plenty of that flavor). other additions that will always be good include: chopped jalapenos (fresh or pickled), sauteed green onion, fresh or frozen corn, grated cheddar, etc. -- just not too much of anything. the *best* batch I ever made utilized the last of this summer's maque choux -- so good. but even plain, it's still probably the best cornbread I've ever made.