Archive for the ‘Dessert’ Category

La Silvana

Chouquettes

Chouquettes

In the world of grand opera there was no bigger star than Giulietta Silvana. At the Met—the old “Diamond Horseshoe” on 39th Street—even the sleepiest of men who’d been dragged to the opera by their culture-climbing wives woke up when “La Silvana” arrived center stage.

There was, of course, no shortage of men who swept through the stage door in their top hats and capes hoping to court “La Silvana.” The usual nightly contretemps between a Diva and her tenor? For “La Silvana”, this was just the opening salvo to a night of romance. Like a bee collecting pollen, she never settled on one flower. Reporter after reporter asked why, and to all she simply replied, “Show me a man of substance, and I will have sung my last Lucia.”

European suitors, many of them of royal lineage, also fell under her spell during visits to La Scala, the Palais Garnier, the Royal Opera House, and countless concert stages. Her great rival, Lily Pons, was green with envy at La Silvana’s independence from the grasp of one man.

At home, which was usually the best suite in the best hotel in whatever city she sang, she was tended to by a staff who doted on, and anticipated her every whim. Her private chef ensured that there would never be too much of her to squeeze into the corsets that costume designers inevitably built into her costumes; a private masseuse pounded every excess ounce of avoirdupois from her that the chef may have missed. What the chef and masseuse may have missed, her own notoriously steely discipline and focus nipped in the bud. She sailed around the world like a maharani: staff, clothes, jewels, and determination never far from her reach. If you find the theory that Great Divas are born Great Divas dubious, let La Silvana wipe away all doubts.

Still, if you were to observe closely, you’d notice some clues to the “real” La Silvana. At every meal, in any restaurant, even on the most luxurious ocean liner, she would rub the silverware with her napkin as if the cleanest was never clean enough. Then there was the locket: a large silver locket that never left her neck no matter the role or costume. She always held it when, as Tosca, she made her final plunge. No man, no maid, no costume designer could make her remove the locket. It was reported (but never confirmed) that she slept with it in her grasp.

Sadly, time—age—was unkind to La Silvana. Inevitably, her voice became heavy, her face matured, and she began to find herself shunted aside in favor of younger singers—both on stage and off.

Rather than linger on in the shadows, La Silvana did what she thought was expected of a Great Diva: she simply disappeared. Her whereabouts—even whether she was dead or alive—became one of the great mysteries of the Opera world.

However, after the recent death of Professor Carlos Bernberg—one of the world’s great scholars on twentieth century opera (and a notorious pack rat)—we are finally able to reveal what happened to La Silvana after she took her final bow. For, hidden amongst the boxes that defined the Professor’s living and working space lies the story of La Silvana’s Act II.

The story of her second act begins—by sheer coincidence—on a snowy Christmas Eve. Still awash in the rosy glow of music as he made his way from Carnegie Hall through the falling snow, Professor Bernberg, heeding the rumbles of his empty stomach, decided that a light, late supper was in order. Worried that Schrafft’s (his usual haunt) would be closed, he decided to try a small bistro he’d spied on his many trips through the neighborhood. Its warm glow always reminded him of Vienna, but its name always captured his fancy: “Lucia”. Not, “Lucia’s Place” or “Café Lucia”. Just “Lucia”.

He paused as he entered, for the restaurant was full and the boisterousness of the crowd left him with the impression that he was intruding on a private party. Through the smoky haze he could see a small staff of red-jacketed waiters clucking and bowing, and in the back, through a window cut in the wall, a cherub-cheeked man, white hair under a toque, fussing in the kitchen.

A short, slightly plump woman with silver hair grabbed both of his hands and greeted him like an old friend. She explained that while there were no individual tables available, if he didn’t mind, she could happily seat him with others. His initial reluctance was overruled by another rumble of his empty stomach, and he soon found himself seated at a large round table with seven other diners. Not so much seated as “tucked in”, as the plump, silver-haired matron who greeted him made sure his chair was pushed in and his “serviette” spread in his lap just so. While telling him about things to look for on the menu, she stood with a cloth and wiped his silverware.

Indicating the other people at the table, she allowed, “My friends will tell you that I am biased, but I think we have the best Veal Marengo in the world.” Nodding towards the kitchen she continued, “Franco is Piedmontese, so he knows just the right amount of white truffle to add.”

Well, given such salesmanship, and the agreement of his tablemates, how could the Professor not try the Veal Marengo?

After his meal—and a rather bracing glass of Cotes de Nuits – Villages—he patted his stomach in appreciation of the fine meal, and the happy conversation with the strangers at the table.

Insisting that he have something sweet with his coffee, the silver-haired matron delivered a small plate baring just a few simple, round pastries that were studded with nibs of sugar. They were hollow, and the nibs of sugar sweetened the toasted, egg-infused, pastry with little “pops” each time he took a bite.

The Professor pleaded with the silver-haired matron to know what they were.

“Ah, those? They are Chouquettes. I first had them on a Christmas Eve many moons ago in Vienna. A place much like this one. I was with my first love, my only true love. I had to plead with the baker for the recipe for I knew that I would want my love to have Chouquettes every Christmas Eve. I carried the recipe in my locket for many years. I always felt that I could conquer the world if I kept the recipe close to my heart.”

As she pointed to her large silver locket, the Professor looked her up and down while a wash of memories flooded him. “You are La Silvana!” he gasped.

“Ha!” she giggled. “La Silvana! I made her up like a child pretends to be a cowboy or an Indian. Would people have come to see Gertrude Silverman sing? I think not. So I became Giulietta Silvana. But all the fame and riches could never bring back my true love. He was lost in the Great War. After I stopped singing I opened this place so that every night I could re-live those dinners in Vienna. Some days, at my darkest, I imagine that the door will open, he’ll walk in, and we’ll be reunited forever.” Then, with a sigh, “But it is not to be.”

She smiled at the professor and said, “You’ll keep my secret, yes? Better for the world to think La Silvana just evaporated into thin air then for them to know she is now a dumpy, grey haired frau. So here I am, hiding in plain sight. Shhhh…” she teased, holding her finger over her lips if playing a game of Hide and Seek. As she made her request she offered the Professor one more Chouquette. He bit into it and as the sugar made little “pops” in his mouth, he knew almost as if he’d been placed under a spell, that he would never reveal the secret of La Silvana.

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Want to make your own Chouquettes? Follow my recipe for Gougeres, but omit the cheese. Before baking, sprinkle with nib (pearl) sugar, or any large grain sugar.

Look at this! The “I Heart Christmas” cookies seen below (inspired by noted artist Laura Loving) are in The New York Times!

Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

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This holiday season consider a gift to the Robin Hood Foundation.

Absolutely, positively

I Heart Christmas cookies

Nothing says loving…

I am pleased to announce that I just returned from the Post Office. Remember the Post Office?

I marvel at the Post Office. Now I know where my Windows 95 computer went to die. Hey, stuff still gets from point A to point B. How? I don’t know. A visit to a New York City Post Office is to reaffirm one’s belief in Santa Claus and his elves.

My snarky humor is in no way meant to besmirch the work being done by the thousands of Postal Workers around the country who really do get the job done.

I just hate waiting in line.

Lest you think I am a holiday luddite, rest assured that the majority of my shopping is done via the internet. Occasionally this translates into higher shipping costs, yet this is more than compensated for by the reduced schlepping costs. However, every now and then, for intimates I hold in high regard, I like to send a little something homemade from my humble kitchen. A modest effort that folks always seem to appreciate. But, cookies don’t mail themselves.

All has not been well in my kitchen; my stove has decided that it is time to retire and begrudgingly bakes at one temperature—when it lights at all. (New stove on the way…) All of this adds up to, as they say on Wall Street, a challenging season.

But serenity is mine. I have a few survival tips that get me through seasons like this.

1.) Pay a visit to the Island of Reduced Expectations. This is a lovely place where the weather is always temperate and pie crust is always perfect—even if you don’t follow Martha Stewart’s recipe. This year’s visit meant making peace with the aforementioned oven and baking by smell and color rather than using a timer. Besides, my Mom likes things cooked “well done.” Translated into the real world this means that I made three kinds of cookies instead of the six whose recipes had caught my eye. And burned a few.

2.) How big is your kitchen? If it is like mine the answer is, “Too small.” (Ditto the refrigerator.) This means I need to plan where I can place racks of cookies as they cool. My living room has often been enlisted, even though this means it smells like cookies for days after. (Could be worse. That’s why I never cook salmon at home. Even good smells get into the upholstery. I have a feeling that someday when I buy a new sofa and place the current one on the street for pick up, folks will think a bakery opened on the block.) I have a constant rhythm going of dough going in the oven, just out of the oven cookies moving to the cooling rack, cooled cookies moving to storage containers. Lather, rinse, repeat.

3.) Special treatment cookies? Don’t do it all in one day or you will end up in the psych ward with my family. I spread preparations for the beautiful I Heart Christmas cookies shown above over three days. Day one I made the dough, then wrapped it and stuck it in the fridge. Day two I rolled and cut the dough, sprinkled it with vanilla sugar and baked the hearts. Day three I dipped them in chocolate, sprinkled them with crushed candy canes, and refrigerated them to set the chocolate. It was still a challenge, but worth it, and much easier because each step was begun with a clean kitchen. (Full disclosure: I did have one accident and lost about ten completed cookies when a cooling rack slipped out of the fridge because I opened the door with too much gusto. I’d like to blame the kitchen or the fridge, but I’ll be adult and blame my noisy neighbors.)

4.) The internet is your friend and you don’t even have to bake it cookies or buy it drinks. Did you know that with a little bit of planning you can use the post office and never be scowled at by an employee or wait in line? Avail yourself—when possible—of Priority Mail flat rate shipping boxes. I goofed this year, hence my wait in line. I shipped some cookies to family and friends in gift boxes I had purchased at the baking supply store. They didn’t fit in the flat rate boxes. If they had, I could have paid for and printed the postage at home, packed the box, and then waved to the folks standing in line as I dropped my package in the chute. The interesting irony is that metal cookie tins would have weighed more, but they would have fit in the flat rate boxes and therefore cost less to ship and saved me time. Ah well, next time. (But the cookies looked nice in those boxes…)

5.) If you live in or near New York City, visit “the tree” at Rockefeller Center.

You can’t help but smile.

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The “I Heart Christmas” cookies pictured above are a variation on my “I Heart Shortbread” recipe. They are decorated with Candy Canes that were pulverized in a food processor.

Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

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Donate to the American Red Cross to support Hurricane Sandy relief. Please.

Ginger

Gingerbread Biscotti

Gingerbread Biscotti

How the heck did ginger become the featured holiday season flavor, huh? Why, all of the sudden, I am reaching for powdered ginger, crystallized ginger, and molasses?

I’ll bet it’s because of our British friends and their propensity towards brandied, flaming, steamed puddings. Ginger comes from tropical locales all around the globe, many of these locales were British colonies at one time or another, and ginger has food preservation properties. There is some logic that can somehow be extrapolated from this regarding ginger’s Christmastime prevalence…but I haven’t figured it out. Yet.

I read that one year Martha Stewart made steamed Christmas puddings and gave them as gifts. I think if you are gift exchanging buddies with Martha Stewart and she gives you a steamed pudding for Christmas you should also get a lovely pima cotton t-shirt hand screened with the words, “I am Martha Stewart’s buddy and all I got for Christmas was a steamed pudding. And this lovely t-shirt.” I suppose you could add the words, “You should see what I gave her” but that sounds dirty. (While we’re on the subject of holiday-themed double entendres, last week someone complimented me on my Christmas globes. I replied, “No, those are all year ‘round.” Okay I’m done.)

While I prefer the charms of chocolate on any holiday, I would not like to leave you with the impression that I am immune to ginger’s charms. I am a fan: in fact I even created the Gingerdoodle cookie as a way of waking up those rather flabby, sleepy Snickerdoodles that inevitably appear at holiday cookie swaps.

The Gingerdoodle is a soft cookie, and it is that soft, slightly spicy quality that makes it an easy cookie in which you can overindulge. I am by nature a fan of crunchy cookies, including Chocolate Chip cookies, much to the chagrin of Mrs. Field’s fans when I bake my top secret, unpublished Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe.

This holiday season I thought it might be fun to bake a crunchy biscotti that would bring together the best of gingerbread, gingerdoodles, and Ginger from Gilligan’s Island into one crunchy treat. Two outta three aint bad. (Ginger—actress Tina Louise—did not return our phone calls, although we did receive a lovely holiday message from her attorneys with the words “cease” and “desist”.)

To keep things interesting I thought it might be fun to use the ginger flavor in a way that is slightly different than the Gingerdoodle—perhaps make it less “rich” and emphasize the gingerbread instead of the ginger. I am not too proud to admit that a stroll through the cookie aisle of my local supermarket reminded me of Carr’s Ginger Lemon creams. I love these although they veer a bit too much into the sweet lane of traffic. Indeed, they are very sweet. But the pairing of lemon and ginger? Perfect and easily emulated.

I had more or less perfected the level of crunch in my biscotti some years ago at the prompting of my late Auntie Esther. At the time she was living way out west in a dude ranch / retirement community. (Okay, not so much. I made up the dude ranch part because she was in a rather sandy suburb of Las Vegas.) I used to send her biscotti—mandel bread, actually—and she would call me and ask me to toast them a bit less next time. This went on for several batches until she finally exclaimed, “We’re old! They’re too hard! You’re gonna break our teeth!”

Good grief. Nonagenarians can be so testy!

So the hunt was on for a mild crunch that wouldn’t challenge fragile dental work—and Auntie Esther, hello, I’m now at an age where I understand completely. Just like the search for any magic cure, the answer was found as serendipitously as the discovery of penicillin. (And yes, I have a suit picked out to wear when I accept the Nobel Prize for this discovery.) You see—and stop me if this is too much information—I went through a cornmeal phase. Yes, I know: who hasn’t? Everything had to be dusted, dredged, coated, and submerged in cornmeal. But I survived because that’s what I do.

The one great thing that came out of this period was learning to substitute a bit of cornmeal for the flour in my biscotti recipes. Cornmeal gives the biscotti a slightly sandy quality that emulates crunch even if you don’t toast the slices. Once toasted—even briefly—you get the perfect level of crunch and your dentist not be making emergency repairs to your choppers.

I did add some minutely diced crystallized ginger. You can vary the amount up or down depending upon your desire for heat in the spice. I glazed a few of the biscotti with a lemon glaze, but this proved to be unnecessary: too much gilt on the lily. Feel free if you want that citrusy sweetness, but the grated lemon zest in the cookies is really all you need.

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Click here for the recipe for Gingerbread Biscotti

Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

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Donate to the American Red Cross to support Hurricane Sandy relief. Please.

Discovering Chris (likes cake)

Apple Skillet Cake

Apple Skillet Cake

It was nice to get out of my apartment after being holed up waiting for Hurricane Sandy to have her way with us. I had a standing invitation to visit an elderly friend who just re-did his apartment and was having a few friends in so he could show it off.

Like so many New Yorkers Chris has lived in the same place for many years, and his views and location are—shall we say—extraordinary. The downside is that it is a sixth-floor walk up. It’s a climb. But Chris, having long ago retired (he was in the shipping business) never leaves his perch.

My goodness. For an elderly gent he’s the life of the party. He spent the entire time standing on his new coffee table.

Naturally I couldn’t show up empty handed. The question was: what shall I bring to a housewarming…or to be more accurate, a “redecoration-warming”?

It’s Fall. Every fall, this young(!) man’s fancy turns to apples.

That’s not entirely accurate. I should say my fancy turns to apple cake. A nice piece of apple cake just hits the spot for me on a chilly fall day. Hey, you can’t just eat chocolate all the time. (What the heck am I saying? Of course you can…)

I’ll admit that there are only so many ways to make apple cake. My ideal would be a cake that is not too sweet, not too heavy, that would have apples just tinted with a sting of cinnamon, and cooked through. Too many apple cakes end up with dull, undercooked apples. Don’t let this happen to you!

My standby trick for the latter problem is to cook—sauté—the apples first. Some people may object to this, after all, it is an extra step, and yet another pan to be washed, dried and put away. But I’m afraid I must insist.

Photobombing Chris

We couldn’t get him off the coffee table…

I kept thinking of all the big puffy apple pancakes I have made or been served over the years. You may have seen these referred to as “Dutch Babies” or “Dutch Apple Pancakes”. Kin to popovers, they owe their appeal to the high amount of eggs in the recipe that make the pancake puff so dramatically in the oven. The eggs, in turn, give the pancake a richness and heartiness that can be very satisfying.

Nice…but it’s not cake. And I want cake.

I do love my All-Clad skillets, and what better place to cook apples than there? While I’m at it, why not bake the cake in an nice shiny skillet and bring the whole thing as a gift to ol’ Chris?

I started off with three large apples cored, and thickly sliced. (I used a couple of Braeburns and a Cortland. I don’t think the variety matters all that much in this recipe.)

In the large skillet I slowly melted butter and sugar until I had a rough approximation of a light caramel sauce. Then I added the sliced apples and let the whole thing bubble until a lot of the liquid cooked away.

After removing from the heat, I made a very simple bowl and spoon cake batter (no mixer!). I poured it over the apples and spread it in an even layer. It seemed like there may not be enough batter to cover everything, but since the recipe calls for a healthy dose of baking powder, I knew that the heat of the oven would give it enough of a “whoosh” to cover everything.

I have to admit that I was experimenting: taking a little bit from this recipe and a little bit from that—not always a smart thing to do when baking. When you’re cooking on top of the stove you can taste as you go and adjust the seasonings as needed. Baking is a little like pottery: sometimes you really just don’t know what you’ll get until the timer beeps and you open the oven door.

In this case you get what seems like an unassuming cake in a pan…straight from the oven it almost looks like baked polenta. But then you turn it over and serve it apple-side-up, dusted with some confectioner’s sugar, and you have a gentle, homey snack, dessert, or even breakfast that would not have been out of place in a colonial tavern.

I could tell that Chris was thrilled, although he wouldn’t let on, being the stone-faced hombre he is. His apartment is beautiful, but as I wandered around I questioned whether he’d actually ever use the shiny, new skillet that the cake came in.

He doesn’t have much of a kitchen.

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Click here for the recipe for Apple Skillet Cake

Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

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Donate to the American Red Cross to support Hurricane Sandy relief. Please.

Scared Twixless

Pumpkin Spice Ice Cream

My Jack O’Lantern…this year

Please don’t let Kathleen Turner read this.

Ever since I saw the movie “Serial Mom” many years ago I have been apprehensive about doing things after Labor Day that she may deem inappropriate. (Savvy viewers may recall the scene from said movie where she has a rather lethal encounter with Patty Hearst regarding the wearing of white shoes after Labor Day.)

Yes, I am fully aware that the movie was a work of fiction, and that she will not be bludgeoning me if I break a seasonal rule, but this rather ghoulish movie has been on my mind because of Halloween.

I think I’ve had just about enough of Halloween already. I have a friend who starts serving Candy Corn before I’ve had a chance to finish shaking the beach sand out of my sneakers. We have noticed that a majority of Candy Corn being sold this year lists Mexico as its provenance. One can only posit a wild theory that this is somehow related to its apparent addictive qualities.

My yearly complaint? As a happy home baker I really cannot do much on Halloween. I cannot make Candy Corn. Why would I try? Yes I could frost cupcakes to look like candy corn. I could make Candy Corn-colored cocktails. Alas, I’m a failure at kitsch.

I’ve gone the cookie route in the past…happily and with excellent results. But it always comes down to the same question: On Halloween doesn’t everyone really want a KitKat bar? I cannot compete on their turf.

Here’s where breaking a rule after Labor Day comes in, albeit a rule of my own making. I don’t know why I have this rule—it may be a simple case of waist preservation—but I don’t make ice cream after Labor Day. A silly rule indeed, and like most rules, made to be broken.

This year my Jack O’Lantern will be Pumpkin Spice Ice Cream. Pumpkin Spice is on my brain of late due to some publicity about there being a shortage of the spices used. (Yes, this was news.) Every day when I make my Starbucks run I am greeted by huge window decals advertising Pumpkin Spice Latte.

Read that sentence again. Yes, I said “Every day when I make my Starbucks run…” Clearly I am a Starbucks fan. Sadly though, my brew of choice is black coffee; I simply cannot get into the big drinks they make that are topped off with swirls of whipped cream.  When I get my frequent drinker rewards and order a simple, humble black coffee, the folks behind the counter wrinkle their noses in collective disbelief and ask a unified “That’s it? And not even a venti?”

The truth is, I do love those drinks but to be even more truthful I must claim that for the same fat and calories I’d rather have a dish of ice cream.

Pumpkin Ice Cream can be tricky, as the ideal balance of flavors is really a matter of personal choice. My Mother’s guideline with anything pumpkin, including Pumpkin Pie, is that she likes it to taste like pumpkin.

I have an ice cream recipe that I really like—I used it this summer to make Peppermint Stick Ice Cream—so that’s my base. I merely substituted one cup of canned pumpkin for the peppermint candy. This recipe directs you to push the cooled, cooked custard base through a sieve before churning it in the ice cream freezer to make the ice cream silky smooth. Following that logic, I also pushed the pumpkin through a sieve. This ended up being a good idea. The ice cream was delicately smooth, and with a mere whisper of a half teaspoon of cinnamon and pinch of clove the ice cream had the perfect, unmistakable pumpkin flavor my Mom will love.

The temptation remains to fiddle with the recipe a bit. Please feel free to do so; my mind has already wandered to wondering if brown sugar would add a bit of complexity. What about a touch of coffee to make it Pumpkin Spice Latte in honor of my Barista’s seasonal treat?

And you can still have your KitKat bar…

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

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Happy Tweetoween

Eenie. Meenie. Meinie.

Blondies? Hermits?

Blondies? Hermits?

I can’t decide if I think indecision is a good thing or a bad thing. Ah, the irony.

Recently I went to dinner with my Mom. She ordered skirt steak, but then sat with a cloud over her head wondering if she should change her order to lamb chops. I berated her (gently) with a huffy, “Once I make a decision I move on…always listen to your first instinct.” (Don’t worry: she still has plenty of ammo in her belt to cut me back down to size.)

What I forgot were my own—frequent—moments of indecision that usually occur before I do something. So for those keeping score: Mom, hand wringing after. Me: hand wringing before. Tie ball game, folks.

My brand of indecisiveness reared its ugly head a few days ago when it began to feel like fall and I decided I wanted to revisit my old recipe for Hermits. Hermits are the old-fashioned bar cookie that usually have a heavy jolt of molasses, spice, and raisins. These were a neighborhood bakery standby when I was a kid, but it occurred to me that they were, perhaps, a bit too intense for the uninitiated: some people hate raisins baked into anything, others can’t abide molasses, yet another group would pass on both. Hermits have another potential problem: no chocolate. Oh-oh.

What I couldn’t decide was whether to stick with tradition, or trod my own path and risk them not being Hermits but Blondies.

Nothing against Blondies.

Okay, something against Blondies: I always felt that their whole raison d’etre was to be the anti-Brownie, assiduously avoiding chocolate in order to present an overly sweet, bleached face to the world. The trouble with that is that they never assert any identity of their own.

I feel it is important to pause here for a moment and reflect on the fact that I just applied some kind of psychology to a bar cookie. Psychologists out there are having a field day. How did that make you feel? Our time is up for today. Feel free to take the Kleenex with you.

Uh-huh, so, back to the cookies.

My Hermit recipe had already made some allowances for modern taste. I lessened the amount of molasses and substituted tiny Zante currants for the raisins, a choice which preserved the “raisiny” flavor minus the goo of baked raisins. Would the earth open and swallow me whole if I went even further? What would be so bad about a mashup of all the best things from Hermits, Blondies, and Brownies? I know I’d be happy.

The special guest star—not usually seen on this stage—is chocolate. But I am not abandoning the molasses bite either, just reducing it to a “note” along with the vanilla. I was reluctant to retain the spice—in the form of cinnamon, but a friend’s excellent Chocolate-Cinnamon icing inspired the courage to leave it in.

Nuts seemed like a prerequisite, but I am weary of walnuts, therefore pecans were nominated, both chopped into the batter and used whole as decoration on top. The chocolate was chopped by hand too; chocolate chips seem too uniform for a cookie that has such a rough—dare I say—artisanal quality. (Call me “home on the range”…or should that be at the range?)

You can see from the picture above that I ended up with bars that slightly resemble Blondies or smaller, fatter Hermits. They’re not as sweet as Blondies, or even Toll House bar cookies. They’re less aggressive than Hermits. Blondies for Chocolate Lovers? Hermits for the 21st Century? I can’t decide what to call them. How about EenieMeanieMeinieMoes?

Last decision: do I eat them all myself or give some away? Hmmm…

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Here’s the recipe for EenieMeanieMeinieMoes

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Sticky

Orange Marmalade Cake

Orange Marmalade Cake

When I was a kid I tasted marmalade and thought it was disgusting.

Well, it’s like this: I was a Welch’s grape jelly fan. Welch’s grape jelly was sold in a glass tumbler with Hanna-Barbera cartoon characters on the side. Your Mom could wash out the tumbler when it was empty and then you’d drink your milk from this stylish new addition to her kitchen ware. So, there was fat little Mikey with Yogi Bear printed on the side of his glass of milk and a PB&J on Wonder in front of him. All in all, not a bad little scene.

But marmalade…it was foreign. It came in a white jar. It was bitter. Your dusty, grey, old Aunties ate it on barely toasted English muffins. Even Yogi Bear, that ursine, groovy, beatnik dude on the constant prowl for a “pic-a-nik” basket would have passed on PB & marmalade.

My stance has softened slightly, a change of perception related to my decline into physical decrepitude; marmalade has not changed a bit. Age and who-knows-what-else have dampened my palate to the point where I find marmalade’s somewhat aggressive tendencies almost admirable. Almost.

That’s not to say that there haven’t been marmalade moments in my adulthood. Don’t we all go through our experimental phases? I had a stage where I would dilute marmalade with a dash of Cointreau and use it as a baste and marinade for chicken. I do not normally go for sweet main dishes, but certain foods seem to give you permission for this. Pork Tenderloin cooked with maple syrup? Yum-o (to steal an expletive from Rachael Ray.)

I have also heated it and pushed it through a sieve then brushed it on fruit tarts as a glaze. But in its purest form straight from the jar on the aforementioned under-browned English muffin? Sorry, no.

But if marmalade has always caused me a visceral “oh-oh!” as I roam the peanut butter aisle and scan the rows of friendly jams and jellies stacked at my supermarket, I must confess to a bit of shame too. I think marmalade can be prettier than the murky, candied purple of grape jelly, or the sludgy red or strawberry jam. If my choice were purely visual I’d vote the marmalade ticket, as I find its stained glass, sunset blush very seductive.

About a week ago, I actually held a jar of marmalade in my hand and thought, “SOMEONE likes this stuff. They wouldn’t sell it if no one liked it.” In a clear example of projecting my own feelings of…what…inadequacy perhaps, I decided that clearly it wasn’t marmalade’s fault but my own. “Give the stuff a chance,” I argued. I dropped the jar into my basket. Amazing what a bit of mild self-shaming can do. (Don’t go to the supermarket with me. Clearly there’s too much thinking going on.)

How do you turn over a new leaf? Call me “Old Auntie” if you must, but yes, my first test was glopping the stuff on a barely toasted English muffin. I gotta say: still not my bagatelle. If you are trying to show off the bitter nature of marmalade this is the way to go. Keep calm and carry on, yes? I toasted another English muffin, this time letting it actually reach that ideal crunchy brown state. Then I buttered the English muffin—but not too much. Just enough to dampen the nooks and crannies while retaining a bit of crunch. Then and only then was a layer, a mere glazing, of marmalade applied, inspired by the light touch called for on fruit tarts. Much more satisfying. Clearly a little goes a long way. And clearly the butter had properties that tamped down the marmalade’s more aggressive tendencies.

This inspired a few thoughts: marmalade butter. Marmalade is mixed into softened butter and presented as a spread for toast. Then I thought of mixing a bit of the marmalade into homemade ice cream, but since it is after labor day I cannot make ice cream. (Oh yeah: that’s a rule.)

Into this mix was thrown an early morning breakfast meeting. Naturally this required baking some corn muffins. (Naturally…) My usual recipe for corn muffins requires a little grated orange zest and the merest kiss of orange juice—just enough to “goose” what is usually a predictable muffin. As a daring experiment I decided to forgo the zest and juice in favor of a tablespoon of marmalade added to the liquid ingredients. (Yes, I know: How brave. Thank you.)

Makes perfect sense, yes? The marmalade already has little bits of orange, and obviously quite a bit of juice. Granted, a bit more sugar, but I didn’t add the whole jar. Did the folks who ate the corn muffins feel the earth move? No, but they enjoyed them. Yes, I set the bar low.

This brought to mind a summer standby recipe. I bake Ina Garten’s Lemon Pound Cake at least once per summer. It is easy, enormous, easily transported, and always gets nods of approval. The trick to her recipe is that once you turn the cake out of its pan you “baste” it with warm, sweetened lemon juice. I pondered the possibilities of a similar cake, but substituting the marmalade to accomplish the same task as the lemon juice.

The other shortcut this would allow is that I won’t have to grate the zest of the lemons as I do when baking Ina’s cake: the marmalade comes fully loaded with zest and bits of orange. Some marmalade went into the cake, some was heated and painted on top as a glaze and soaked into the cake as it cooled. You can see from the picture above the result is as succulently moist as Ina’s.

While Ina’s cake is like unrepentant about its lack of complexity, the Orange Marmalade cake holds a bit of mystery. The bitter orange happily misleads the tongue into thinking something else is going on…booze perhaps?

No. No booze. Just something foreign.

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Here’s the recipe for Orange Marmalade Cake

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Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

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It’s all about the chocolate

Chocolate Crescent Cookies

Chocolate Crescent Cookies…the sea salt makes the difference

Sometimes it’s really all about the chocolate, that’s all.

So here’s the thing: chocolate can actually be very tricky. You really can’t just melt it and pour it into a mold and make your own chocolates. There’s a little task called tempering required. I once helped a pastry chef temper a bit of chocolate that he was then going to pour into molds. His technique was exhaustingly precise and deliberate—justified in the end by little caramel-filled bon-bons that were ceremoniously served at the end of the meal “upstairs.” They glowed as if they had been polished. (The quotation marks around “upstairs” refer to the fact that restaurant dining room was upstairs. Alex, the pastry chef in question, was relegated to the basement.)

Like so many things food related, tempering chocolate is as much science as it is art. Obviously standards and expectations are higher for a professional like Alex than for you and me, the humble home putter-er around the kitchen-er. But the focus remains the same: a smooth, glossy finish devoid of streaks or “bloom”—the little gray marks that betray badly tempered chocolate where the cocoa solids have begun to separate from the cocoa butter.

Yes there are machines that will perform this task for you, but they are expensive and the provenance of the professional pastry chef. After a while Alex’s basement workspace was rewarded with one, but there was a kind of double learning curve involved; Alex had to both learn to drive the beast and trust it too.

Alex’s surface of choice for tempering was a big slab of marble. Among its other qualities (beauty being one of them) marble stays cool. A friend once described her summer living and working with an Italian farm family. During the day the temperatures would reach at least one hundred degrees. After lunch the family would nap on the kitchen floor which was…that’s right, a big slab of marble. She said it was like dipping into a cool pool of water.

Alex would melt his chocolate in a double boiler over a very gentle heat, taking care to not let any steam from the double boiler get into the chocolate. (Moisture can make chocolate seize or clump.)

Periodically he would check the temperature of the chocolate with an instant-read thermometer and either reduce the heat or add “seed” chocolate—extra un-melted chocolate—to cool down the pot. When it reached the consistency and temperature he wanted, he would pour it onto the marble slab and start swirling and scraping it around the slab, stopping every now and then to again check its temperature with his instant-read thermometer. The part I helped with was the swirling and scraping, a technique whose sole requirement was that none of the chocolate would leave the slab and land on the floor or your clothes. (Yes, there was a huge temptation on the part of this glutton to dip my finger into the chocolate. But I liked Alex and didn’t want to make him mad.)

The science behind this—in laymen’s terms—is to stabilize the molecules of the cocoa solids. The result is a shine and a rich, deep “snap” when you break the cooled chocolate.

(Folks like me who buy chocolate at Duane Reade or other places in this real estate challenged city have all been stung by opening a bar of chocolate only to find it had been held in an un-air conditioned storeroom. It’s interesting to see firsthand how badly handled chocolate can become inedible.)

As I said, for the home cook, this rigmarole would seem tedious and unnecessary. (Tedious and Unnecessary? Weren’t they a dance team from the old Ed Sullivan Show? ) If you just want to dip a few strawberries, or the odd pretzel or two, a little care can elevate your chocolate dipped treats into a thing of beauty.

So here’s the Butter Flour Eggs chocolate melting primer, a/k/a my tempering shortcut. Alex and other professional pastry chefs, please turn away now: you’re not gonna like it.

Step 1: take your time. When in doubt melt the chocolate slowly. You’ll know you’re going slow enough when you invoke a deity whose initials are J.C. Example: “J____ C_____, aren’t you melted yet!?”

Step 2: Yes, use a double boiler. A glass bowl over a saucepan with a couple of inches of simmering water is you’re best set up. Keep the heat low to keep steam to a minimum. Steam is an enemy of chocolate. Steam: bad. (Hint: I actually use a triple boiler. The chocolate is melted in a glass Pyrex measuring jug placed on the glass bowl over the simmering pan of water.)

Step 3: chop your chocolate before melting. You should chop it so that it is like gravelly beach sand. (The safest way to chop a block of chocolate is to use a serrated bread knife, and chop at the corners of your block of chocolate.)

Step 4: Reserve roughly a quarter of your chopped chocolate as your “seed” chocolate, to be melted later.

After you have melted your chocolate, use a rubber scraper to stir it and swirl it in the bowl, making sure there are no lumps of un-melted chocolate. The consistency should be somewhat runny. Then add the “seed” chocolate that you reserved and continue to stir until that has melted.

The next step is to find the appropriate vessel with which to convey the chocolate to your mouth. I’m a fan of a mild, slightly crumbly cookie like the orange cornmeal crescents in the photo above. These are piped through a pastry tube then baked. After being dipped in chocolate the cookies are finished with just a flake or two (or three) of sea salt.

Happy Labor Day!

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Here’s the recipe for Orange Crescent Cookies

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

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Crumbs and the Single Girl

Banana Bread

Banana Bread…schmear of cream cheese optional

Several days ago I started writing the blog posting you are currently reading. As you’ll see, it’s a riff on Cosmopolitan Magazine. I had written a few paragraphs when I happened to look up from my computer and saw on my TV, “Helen Gurley Brown, 1922-2012”.

I was startled on so many levels. Startled at the timing of choosing this week to write about “her” magazine; startled at her age—90—when I really had no idea how old she was; startled at the loss of one of those folks who seemed so ubiquitous here in New York.

Listen, New York is like that: blink and your neighborhood changes. The Plaza Hotel is now a condo. H&H Bagels? Gone. Broadway Nut Shoppe? Gone. Now Helen Gurley Brown? What’s next? Who’s next?

In person Helen Gurley Brown was hard to miss. I waited on her many years ago. She was tiny. Her extremely high forehead betrayed a propensity towards proud, public, plastic surgery. She also had a very benign energy. Back in my days as a waiter I waited on some scary monsters. She was not one of them.

To her friends she was notoriously cheap. Yet, she donated $18 million to Columbia University’s School of Journalism.

I never really read Cosmo. Sure, over the years I may have picked it up and flipped through it, but I never actually read it. Last week I was waiting for the dermatologist and had a choice: Cosmo or Psoriasis Monthly. I’m not into rash porn so I picked up Cosmo. My goodness, there’s a whole world there about which I knew nothing.

Although she had long since handed over the reins to other Editors-in Chief, to my inexperienced eye the magazine appeared to have retained her infamous, singular vision. My previously uninformed impression of the magazine was that it would be full of young women propelled solely by a flake or two of Special K and a few sips of Crystal Light. The reality was that I found a section dedicated to food and drink.

This pleased me greatly. Even though under the guiding hand of Helen Gurley Brown Cosmopolitan became a guidebook for navigating the minefield of finding and balancing “HIM” and a career, I have found that one of the great unspoken keys to any young woman’s success is having a way with food. Forgive me, I am about to rant, but nonetheless here it goes: I’m sick of people (including members of my own family) who visibly and loudly wrinkle or turn up their nose at making something in the kitchen.

The only thing you know how to make is reservations, you say? Sorry. Where’s my sense of humor? It would be the depths of poor manners for me to not laugh, however please be advised that I am laughing at you not with you.

As surely as Helen Gurley Brown had a singular vision to guide young women, I too have one. Go in the kitchen and cook something for someone. Put yourself out there. “Cast thine crumbs upon the water and they come back a thousandfold.” (That’s not me, that’s from Ecclesiastes…)

To those who insist they can’t, that they’re hopeless, I say take a page out of Helen Gurley Brown: those who can’t should fake it.

Uhhh, where did your mind go? I’m still talking about food.  It is perfectly acceptable to not be able to cook well, as long as you have really and truly tried.

Go ahead and serve someone else’s food as your own, although I warn you that this is a dangerous game. Don’t try to pass off store-bought as you own for it is too easy to be caught. But if you have a friend who can cook, conspire with them. A few of their goodies in your freezer can go a long way.

But in the meantime, I say give it your best shot. Find a recipe or two that seem “doable.” Invest in a few simple pieces of quality kitchen equipment. (Use caution buying the utensils sold hanging from a peg above the meat department. Some are fine, some are not.) Learn what a ladle is. (Yes, I had to explain what a ladle is to a member of my own family. A shameful moment. A ladle!)

I’ve taken the liberty of creating a casual recipe that you can attempt. While Banana Nut Bread is usually a device for using up overripe bananas, it’s really a humble, casual cake. This version isn’t too sweet. Make this recipe and bring it to your office with an “Oh that? Yeah, I did a little baking this weekend” attitude. Make another one and keep it in your freezer (it’ll keep there, tightly wrapped, for about three months) and you’ll be ready for anything.

I can’t help but to speculate how Cosmo’s editors would “tease” the recipe on the magazine’s cover:

“What’s he really thinking when he eats your Banana Bread?”

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Here’s the recipe for Banana Nut Bread

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7 tweets you should never use

The Italian Team

Semifreddo

Amaretti Semifreddo with roasted apricots

I’ve been making a lot of ice cream this summer. When I post a story in this venue about ice cream I tend to get a little paranoid about it. There are a couple of reasons: 1. There is no shortage of excellent ice cream available to buy, already made, at your local supermarket. 2. People still tend to think of ice cream as an ultimate indulgence, the 70’s drug binge of desserts. I half expect to receive an email calling me a horrid little man, and asking how I dare suggest such an indulgence—and besides, don’t I know that most people do not own an ice cream freezer? To which I would reply, “Little? Thank you!”

It seems no one can stop at just one or two scoops. I cannot fix people’s will power—or lack thereof—but I do have remedy for people’s lack of an ice cream freezer.

Whenever I have a question about food I look to the Italians. French food is magnifique, but even at its most casual has an arms-length formality. Italian food is a party even at its most formal. In the dessert realm I have always given the edge to the French, but as I get older I gain more and more respect for the Italian way with dolces—especially if I can introduce chocolate into the equation.

This is, admittedly, chalked up mainly to perception on my part. In my mind’s eye Rome is always sun-splashed and hot, but it’s always sweater and beret weather in Paris. Hmmm: where is my beret?

So, taking my ignorant cultural bias with a grain of salt, I think if I were to ask an Italian what to make if I wanted a frozen dessert but didn’t have an ice cream freezer, the answer would be: semifreddo.

Semifreddo translates as “half-frozen” which is exactly what it is. If, like me, you are a fan of letting your ice cream sit for a while until it hits the “gooshy” stage, then semifreddo is your man—uh—dessert. Don’t worry, it doesn’t hit the half frozen stage through you setting timers or reading thermometers. The ingredients do all the work for you.

The bad news: you will need an electric appliance—a hand-held mixer being the preferred mode of beatery here—although the heartier among us can (and do) make do with a whisk. This appliance is needed to whip some heavy cream and then whip a couple of eggs. I’m too lazy to do this the old fashioned way. The eggs are whipped until they are pale yellow, thick, and creamy. The cream is whipped to stiff peak stage. The two items are lightly folded together, plopped into a mold (in this case a loaf pan), then stashed in the freezer where the foamed eggs lighten the whipped cream and keep it from freezing solid.

There’s beauty in this concoction, and it is a beauty that is a reflection of your own taste, for the basic recipe becomes a blank slate upon which you can heap the bounty of your own imagination.

As this was my first go at semifreddo, I may have played it a bit safe, using a couple of obvious choices. I loosely crumbled about a half a package of little amaretti cookies and used those as a middle layer. During their stay in the freezer they were moistened slightly by their surroundings, but retained enough of their crunch to make them a prize. I oven-roasted a few fresh apricots and served those as a lumpy sauce, the oven magnifying their pungency, a nice counterpart to the vanilla buttery-ness of the semifreddo. Does this still count as “fruit for dessert”?

My next attempt may be a bit more fanciful. If I have the time I’ll make a simple praline from sugar and pistachios and crumble that as a middle layer. The salty pistachios and the sugar will lend a crunchy spikiness to the mellow frozen fluff. I think this may go well with a thimble of Vin Santo. Drink it? Pour it over the semifreddo?

You choose.

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Click here for the Semifreddo recipe.

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

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