The lovely Krissy is a globe-trotting India-phile, who has spent several summers in the Tamil-speaking region of the country. She wants to share with you some tricks she’s picked up on her adventures there.
Everything I cook (or eat) lately is somehow inspired by my food experiences in Tamil Nadu, South India, where I lived the past two summers. Whenever I grab a Starbucks latte while rushing to class, I fondly think back to lazing around in the afternoon heat drinking ten-cent “kapi,” which achieves a similar frothy-top effect sans espresso machine by pouring steaming hot milk coffee back and forth—the higher the better (here’s proof!)—between a stainless-steel tumbler and bowl. And whenever I sit down with a plate and fork, I think of the small “mess” restaurants where I’d be served unlimited piles of rice and vegetables on a banana leaf and eat it with my hands. What to do when it’s 40 degrees, blustery, and the grocery stores are filled with pumpkins and squash?
As I was deciding what to bake tonight, I surveyed my meager stock of baking ingredients, which happens to be rather disproportionately represented by Indian options. My eyes fell upon three things in particular: a jar of raw honey that has been absolutely begging to be used up, chai spice (from Milwaukee’s The Spice House, which is certainly worth a visit if you’re ever in that part of the Midwest), and a bunch of cardamom pods (move over, nutmeg!!). I’d never heard of honey cake before, but this recipe I found seemed promising and extremely versatile, so I decided to heat it up with my two Indian ingredients: chai spice and cardamom. The subtle kick of cardamom added a perfect balance to a topping of caramelized autumn fruit, and the chai spice added much-needed diversity to the lonely cinnamon that was carrying the weight of this cake. The cake itself ends up having a pleasant chewy almost caramel-like surface and a moist interior. Since Thanksgiving has just passed, I went for a topping of the autumn classics: caramelized apples, pears, and some cranberries, and I’d highly recommend “cooling it off” with vanilla ice cream! (And maybe pairing it with apple cider?) But I’d imagine you could put any spin on it that you wanted, depending on the season or your mood. Bunches of oats, perhaps?
Honey Chai-Spice Cake
adapted from Martha Stewart’s Honey Cake with Caramelized Pears
Unsalted butter, softened, for pan
1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
a pinch coarse salt
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. chai spice
2 large eggs
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1/4 c. packed light-brown sugar
1/2 c. plus 2 tablespoons best-quality honey
1/2 c. milk
1/2 c. vegetable oil
Carmelized Autumn Fruits (recipe to follow)
Freshly whipped cream, or ice cream for serving (optional)
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter an 8×8 inch baking pan. Dust with flour; tap out excess. Whisk together the flour, baking powder and soda, salt, cinnamon, and chai spice in a bowl; set aside. Mix eggs and sugars until pale and thick, about 3 minutes.
Whisk together honey, milk, and oil. (For this, I needed to melt down my raw honey.) With mixer on low, add honey mixture to egg mixture; mix until combined, about 1 minute. Add half the flour mixture; mix until smooth. Mix in remaining flour mixture. Pour batter into pan. (The batter may be thinner than you are used to—never fear! It should bake up just right.)
Bake until dark golden brown and a cake tester inserted in center comes out clean, about 50 minutes. Let cool in pan 15 minutes. Run a thin knife around edge of cake; carefully remove sides of pan. Transfer cake to a platter. Top with fruit. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream.
Caramelized Autumn Fruits
1 tbsp. unsalted butter
1/4 c. sugar (white or brown)
1 3/4 lbs. red Anjou pears/Apples cut into 1/2-inch-thick wedges (or 1/4-inch-thick wedges if firm)
Handful cranberries (for color)
1/4 c. best-quality honey
2 green cardamom pods
a few dashes chai spice
Heat butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add sugar, cardamom pods, and chai spice; cook, stirring, until almost dissolved, 1 to 2 minutes. (A note about cardamom pods: often in Indian cooking, you let flavors “seep” into a liquid and you let that liquid flavor the dish. This, as far as I can tell, is what “tempering” means, e.g. adding tempering oil to chutneys. And similarly with Indian sweets, cardamom pods are often thrown whole into the milk to infuse it with a light flavor—this is the method I used here. If you would like a more intense cardamom flavor, you can break the pods open and add the seeds or buy powdered cardamom and add a few pinches.) Add fruit; cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and just golden, 12 to 20 minutes. Pour in honey; cook, stirring, until fruit is coated and very soft, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the cardamom pods before serving.
I realized the other day when talking to an old friend that I essentially have a philosophy on life: Try new things and eat vegetables. That’s it folks. If I had to sum up all the wisdom I’ve learned in my 29plus years on this planet, it would be that. Be adventurous, and find pleasure in the things that are good for you.
Yesterday, I spent a really lovely day with sunshine and good friends and a grill. We then spent some time at the Andersonville street fair, crammed full with people and craft booths and food. Pleasure, I think, is good for you. It’s a vegetable. It makes you feel attached to the world, participating in it. Friends are good for you.
Focaccia is good for you, especially if you top it with vegetables.
I made this the other day when it was thunderstorming and ridiculous outside.
I took out my aggression on the dough.
With the help of this book I picked up at Myopic:
adapted from the Good Housekeeping Baking Cookbook
1 1/2 c. warm water (105 to 115 degrees F)
2 1/4 tsp. active dry yeast
1 tsp. sugar
3 3/4 c. bread flour
5 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tsp. table salt
1 tsp. kosher or course sea salt
1 package of cherry tomatoes, rinsed and halved
1 head of green garlic, rinsed, peeled, and diced
3 to 4 sprigs of thyme, leaves removed
1/2 c. parmesan
salt and pepper
In a large bowl, combine 1/2 c. warm water, yeast, and sugar; stir to dissolve. Let stand 5 minutes, or until foamy. Add remaining 1 c. warm water, flour, 2 tbsp. oil, and table salt; stir to combine.
Turn dough onto lightly floured surface and knead 7 minutes, or until smooth and elastic (dough will be soft; do not add more flour). Shape dough into ball; place in greased large bowl, turning dough over to coat. Cover bowl and let stand in warm place (80 to 85 degrees) until doubled, about 1 hour.
Make the toppings: Over medium heat in a pan, saute the green garlic (with a bit of salt and pepper) until soft. Set aside to cool.
Lightly oil a cookie sheet with a lip (not one that talks back; I mean one that has about an inch-long border around all sides). Punchdown dough and pat into prepared pan. Cover and let rise in warm place until doubled, about 45 minutes. With fingertips, make deep indentations, i inch apart, over entire surface of dough, almost to bottom of pan. Drizzle with remaining 3 tbsp. oil; sprinkle with kosher salt. Cover looselty and let rise in warm place until doubled, about 45 minutes.
Preheat oven to 450.
Sprinkle the garlic evenly over the dough. Spread the tomato halves over the dough. Sprinkle the thyme, then salt and pepper. Grate the cheese and sprinkle over everything.
Bake focaccia on lowest rack about 18 minutes, or until bottom is crusty and top is lightly browned. Transfer to wire rack to cool.
Traditionally, pound cake is made with a pound of butter, a pound of sugar, a pound of eggs, and a pound of flour. Essentially that’s four pounds of crazy. Who can eat all that? This version is much more manageable: loaf size. It’s not a cake of the super moist variety, but has a consistency more like a breakfast bread. As such, it holds up beautifully to the marinated strawberries. The balance of zingy and sweet here is delightful. Balsamic and strawberries are a genius combination that I was introduced to by Kat Santore many moons ago. Thanks, Kat!
Lemon Pound Cake with Balsamic-Marinated Strawberries
1 lb. strawberries, rinsed, hulled, and sliced
juice of 1 lemon
1/2 c. balsamic vinegar
1/4 c. sugar.
Combine all ingredients well and let sit in the fridge while you make the pound cake. The longer, the better. With a slotted spoon, spoon the strawberries on top of each slice of cake to serve.
Lemon Pound Cake
1/2 c. light brown sugar
1/2 c. white granulated sugar
2 sticks butter
1 tsp. lemon extract
1 tbsp. lemon zest
1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
2/4 tsp. salt
Preheat oven to 350.
Grease and flour a loaf pan.
In a large bowl, beat sugar and butter until fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Add lemon extract and zest.
In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking, powder, and salt. Gradually add to the sugar mixture.
Pour batter into the prepared pan. Bake for an hour, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
All I want to do lately is make. I feel more pull toward cozying up at home these days and making things than I did even in winter. Maybe it’s a last push of hibernating impulse before Chicago gets warm and lovely and I am too busy with barbecues and street festivals to do such things as make bread. Or to even turn my oven on for that matter. But for now, I have this great desire to reduce everything to its essential elements and start from scratch.
There’s one notoriously time-consuming item, however, that I’m happy to buy from the store: puff pastry. Apparently, when making it, you must be in a temperature-controlled room so that the layers of (mmmm) butter don’t melt and run while you’re rolling the dough. And the dough must rest in between layers. That’s the beauty of this concoction: layer upon layer of buttery dough with strata of butter in between.
Truly, what can go wrong when puff pastry is involved? You can throw old tires on it and it’ll still probably come out tasting great. Flakey and gorgeous–like making pies out of croissants. Really, puff pastry is never a bad idea.
Here is a very lovely visual demonstration for making puff pastry from scratch. If you’re up for that kind of thing.
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, sliced
2 red apples (such as Braeburn or Gala), cut into small pieces
kosher salt and black pepper
2 sheets frozen puff pastry (from a 17.3-ounce package), thawed
1/2 cup creme fraiche or sour cream
about 1/2 c. blue cheese, crumbled
Heat oven to 400º F. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Stir in the apples, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper and cook until just tender, 2 minutes.
Place each sheet of pastry on a parchment-lined baking sheet and prick all over with a fork. Spread with the crème fraîche, leaving a ½-inch border. Top with the onion mixture and sprinkle blue cheese on top. Bake until the pastry is crisp and browned, 30 to 35 minutes. Cut into pieces before serving.
Hello chocolate. Hello creamy shot of seratonin to my brain. Custards, mousses (meese?), puddings–anything creamy and rich sends me into hog heaven. This recipe is no exception. Jen passed it along to me after raving about it, and she adapted from the good ol’ Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook.
I made it to go with my chipotle tacos. It was a lovely accompaniment, as well as a nod to the long history of cacao in Mexico (documented as far back as 1100 BC, with the word deriving from Nahuatl).
It made a whole lot of custard–or perhaps my ramekins are especially small for this recipe. Either way, equip yourself for a hearty dose of luscious milky mocha.
Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook, via Jen (the Soupista)
2 1/4 c. milk
1/3 c. sugar
3 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tbsp. instant coffee
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
3 eggs, whisked
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
Topping: Bailey’s + Heavy whipping cream, whole coffee beans
Preheat oven to 325.
Heat milk, sugar, cocoa, coffee and cinnamon, stirring until just dissolved. Pour into mixing bowl with eggs and vanilla (preferably bowl with pour spout). Beat for a few minutes.
Put 6 custard cups (or ramekins or coffee cups) into a deep baking dish. Divide mixture among cups. Pour boiling water around cups to depth of 1 inch. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Cool on wire rack. Cover and chill at least 2 hours before serving (will keep for about 24 hours). Garnish with cream whipped with baileys and whole coffee beans.
My lovely friend Juliette has been living in Panama for the past three years, first as a Peace Corps volunteer, and now as a new mom to a gorgeous Panamanian-Californian baby named Adrian. A few years ago, I was lucky enough to go visit her in her idyllic, green village–a remote community that requires an hour and a half hike to reach (no road).
She’s now living in town, so hiking boots and a horse are no longer required to visit her.
When I was there, she made me hot chocolate directly from a cacao pod, with a bit of milk and sugar. It was the most concentrated chocolateness I’d ever experienced–bitter, rich, coating my tongue. Needless to say, Juliette does not take chocolate lightly. Her trick for amazing brownies is all in the cocoa. Her notes below:
I would recommend leaving out up to a 1/2 cup of sugar for those bakers who prefer brownies with more emphasis on the chocolate than on the sugar. I followed the recipe exactly and they almost tasted like fudge because they were so sweet, though the texture was absolutely perfect. The chocolate I used was 100% cacao from a farmer in Bocas del Toro. Cacao producers working with Peace Corps volunteers can always make a bit of money selling chocolate to all of the PC folks throughout the country. Needless to say, it’s in high demand! This last batch of cacao I bought has notes of cinnamon, so the brownies came out with the same flavor– pretty delish! The recipe is below. I got it off of Epicurious.com, but I believe the original recipe is from Bon Appetit.
10 tbsp. (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter
1 1/4 c. sugar
3/4 c. plus 2 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder (natural or Dutch-process)
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 cold large eggs
1/2 c. all-purpose flour
2/3 c. walnut or pecan pieces (optional)
Special equipment: An 8-inch square baking pan
Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F.
Line the bottom and sides of the baking pan with parchment paper or foil, leaving an overhang on two opposite sides.
Combine the butter, sugar, cocoa, and salt in a medium heatproof bowl and set the bowl in a wide skillet of barely simmering water. Stir from time to time until the butter is melted and the mixture is smooth and hot enough that you want to remove your finger fairly quickly after dipping it in to test.
Remove the bowl from the skillet and set aside briefly until the mixture is only warm, not hot. Stir in the vanilla with a wooden spoon. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously after each one. When the batter looks thick, shiny, and well blended, add the flour and stir until you cannot see it any longer, then beat vigorously for 40 strokes with the wooden spoon or a rubber spatula. Stir in the nuts, if using.
Spread evenly in the lined pan. Bake until a toothpick plunged into the center emerges slightly moist with batter, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool completely on a rack. Lift up the ends of the parchment or foil liner, and transfer the brownies to a cutting board. Cut into 16 or 25 squares.
Chocolate note: Any unsweetened natural or Dutch-process cocoa powder works well here. Natural cocoa produces brownies with more flavor complexity and lots of tart, fruity notes. I think it’s more exciting. Dutch-process cocoa results in a darker brownie with a mellower, old-fashioned chocolate pudding flavor, pleasantly reminiscent of childhood.
Gilt church domes and brick three-flats and water towers. The 90/94 and Ozinga trucks. The sounds of buses announcing stops. Wooden decks. Telephone wires. The skyline in the distance beyond rooftops. Dead prairie grass pushing up through snow. The smell of brownies on Des Plaines. Frozen lake. Frozen face. El platforms. Alleyways. A city I never wanted, never thought I’d love so well. A city that, for years, made me feel trapped indoors for six-month stretches at a time and made me cling to my kitchen for something to control. A city that made me a cook. While the city and the winter and circumstances were overpowering me, I was making pot pies. Roasting chickens. I’ve always loved to cook, but this is the first place that’s made me need it.
When I moved here, I knew no one. Had no job, no money. But, during my very first week, I met Siggy. She was Celeste’s friend, had also moved here from New York and wasn’t sold on the Midwest yet either. Through Siggy, I met Sara. And the three of us (and often Patty, Sara’s sister) very shortly started a ritual of cooking and Project Runway every Wednesday night. Many weeks, it was the only thing that I had to do outside of my apartment. Siggy and Sara and our meals got me through that hard winter, when I was so cold and so depressed.
I guess this is just to say that cooking means a lot to me–taking care of myself; but also friendship, a way that people take care of each other.
It is also to say: Is there anything that butter can not do? Sure, it’s a stretch to say it’ll save your life, but it’ll no doubt make it a hell of a lot better. These biscuits taste like baked butter, and there’s an extreme satisfaction in the act of rolling them out, frosting them with melted butter and sea salt, and letting your whole apartment swell with the smell of them while they’re in the oven.
1/2 c. unsalted butter, cold, plus 1 tbsp.
1 1/2 c. cake flour
1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour, divided, plus more for work surface
3 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. sea salt, divided
2 tbsp. shortening, cold
1 c. buttermilk
Cut 1/2 c. of butter into 1/2-inch pieces and refrigerate it along with the shortening. In the bowl of a food processor, fitted with the steel blade, pulse together the cake flour, 3/4 c. of the all-purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda, and 1 tsp. salt. Add the butter and shortening and pulse to combine, until small crumbles are present, 6 to 8 times. Add the buttermilk and pulse until a dough ball forms, about 5 to 6 times.
Dust a dry work surface with flour and have the remaining 1 c. ready for kneading. Turn the dough out onto the floured work surface. With floured hands, gently press the dough out into an 11-by-8-inch rectangle, about 1/4- to 1/2-inch thick. Dust lightly with flour and gently fold it over in thirds, like a letter. Roll or press out to a 6-by-6-inch rectangle again about 2-inches thick. Cut the dough into 9 squares (2-by-2-inches each) with a pizza cutter. Transfer the biscuits to a parchment paper-lined baking sheet about 1/2-inch apart. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let them rest at room temperature for 15 minutes.
Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Melt the remaining tbsp. butter and brush tops with melted butter, then sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 tsp. of sea salt.
Place baking sheet in the middle of the oven and immediately turn oven down to 450 degrees. Bake for 12 to 16 minutes until they are golden brown. Remove biscuits to a wire rack to cool for a few minutes.
Pauline, today’s lovely guest columnist, is teasing me with this amazing-sounding cake. Pauline, please FedEx this to Chicago. Better yet, come visit and make this for me.
My friend and new mommy Sarah Cifarelli (as of Dec 2010) made this amazing Tres Leches Cake for a potluck dinner with the Gurls. It was so delicious. Now, I truly enjoy desserts, but usually tres leches cakes are so dense and sickening sweet, I can only eat a small piece. Well, Sarah’s recipe is rich in flavor yet light in texture. Instead of weighing me or my plate down, I was truly uplifted by it. I had a huge, and I mean HUGE, slice!!!!
Tres Leches Cake Recipe
serves 12 or less depending on how big you make the servings!!!
1/2 c. butter (1 stick) melted and cooled, plus more for greasing the baking dish
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. coarse salt
5 large eggs
1 c. sugar
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 can (14oz) sweetened condensed milk
1 can (12 oz) evaporated milk
1 c. whole milk
2 c. heavy cream
5 c. fresh fruit, optional, such as oranges or berries, for serving
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Lightly butter a 9×12-inch baking dish. (Note: if using a metal pan, keep an eye out on the cake as it will be done in less time.)
In medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.
In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat egs and 3/4 c. sugar on high until pale and thick, about 4 minutes. Add vanilla and beat to combine. With mixer on low, gradually add flour mixture and beat to combine. With a rubber spatula, fold in melted buttah until incorporated. Transfer batter to dish and back until top is golden brown, about 30 to 35 minutes.
In a medium bowl, whisk together milks. Poke warm cake ALL over with a wooden skewer or toothpick, then pour milk mixture over the top and let it cool to room temperature, about 1 hour. The cool part is watching the milks get absorbed into the cake – like magic!
Whip cream and 1/4 c sugar to medium peak, add to the cake and add fruits and eat up!!!!
Last Sunday, I spent four hours in the kitchen of Kendall College, attempting to master the ancient art of bread baking. In a modern way, of course. There was an industrial mixer at each work station, giant multitiered commercial ovens, and the most fascinating device of all: a proofer, a sort of anti-refrigerator with controlled humidity and warmth for more rapid bread rising. I got to wear a chef’s hat.
Hardly ancient was our technique, but we were making one of the oldest and most fundamental food stuffs, dating back to at least the Neolithic period. As soon as humans figured out how to use things as tools, we must have been experimenting with things to smash, mix, and throw in the fire. The word we use comes from Old English, but it’s slang now for the thing most generally life-sustaining in the modern world. That is, money. Clearly our relationship to bread hasn’t changed much over time.
For something that’s been so fundamental to society, I knew hardly anything about making it before taking this class. I’d never even attempted it before, unless you count pizza dough (more on that experiment, still underway, in another post), which I don’t.
As we speak, I’m smearing goat cheese and avocado on a fluffy hunk of sourdough that I made myself. I’m not sure why this is so amazing to me, but there definitely is something about being able to make our most basic sustenance that makes me feel both very masterful, and completely humbled. As one of the very first food products in existence, it is still simple, delicious, perfect. Why aren’t we all making our own bread? If you’re going to cook, really, don’t you need to know how to master the foundations that cuisines–and cultures–have been built on for millennia? And what are the basic elements of cooking if not dough, sauce, protein, vegetable?
So, yeah, breadbaking class got me pretty excited.
We made four different kinds of bread, but I’ll start today with the challah.
4 to 4 1/2 c. bread flour, plus more for dusting
2 tsp. active dry yeast
1 c. room temperature water
2 egg yolks
1/4 c. olive oil, plus more for greasing
1/4 c. sugar
2 1/2 tsp. salt
Egg wash (1 egg whisked with 2 tbsp. cold milk)
poppy seeds are optional
Combine the flour and yeast in the bowl of a standing mixer with a a dough hook. Add water, eggs, egg yolks, oil, sugar, and salt, and mix on low for 4 minutes. Increase to medium speed and knead for 4 minutes. Dough should be soft but not sticky. Transfer dough to an oiled bowl, turn it over to coat with oil, cover with plastic wrap. Let rise until doubled in size, about an hour.
Place dough onto a lightly floured work surface and fold gently, cover, and let rest until relaxed (20 minutes). Divide dough into 3 equal pieces, cover and let rest for 20 minutes (we skipped this step in class).
Working with one piece at a time, gently stretch the dough to a 6 x 10 inch piece using only enough flour to keep dough from sticking (not too much). Fold dough into thirds (like an accordian) making a 2 x 10 inch piece.
Seal edges with the force of your palm, and repeat with all three pieces.
Roll each piece into a tapered cylinder that is 12 inches long. Lay the three ropes parallel to one another. Begin braiding in the center and work toward the outside. Pinch the ends together and tuck under. Place braid on a parchment-lined sheet pan.
Brush the braid lightly with egg wash and let rise, uncovered for one hour.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Gently brush with egg wash again (and sprinkle poppy seeds if desired). Bake until a deep, golden brown color appears and it is shiny and lightweight, about 25-30 minutes. Let cool before serving. If you can wait that long.