Posts Tagged ‘Chocolate’

Phoning it in

Martha Stewart Thin Mints

iCookie?

“If you had an iPhone…”

For several weeks this past year those words—spoken by an unseen Voice Over Artist in a television commercial for Apple’s iPhone—made me cringe. There was a certain smugness there that reminded me of the fat rich kid who used to make fun of my cheap skis when I was 12 and pretending to be Jean-Claude Killy.

I was a perfectly content Android user. Well, not perfectly content. I liked my phone, and was fond of and reliant on many of the apps I had installed. (It had this cool alarm clock that required you to solve a simple math problem before you could disable it or snooze.)

And yet…

After about a year and a half, one of the high priests (priestesses?) of Android decided that it would be a good idea to send a big update of the phone’s operating system (all of which have alluring foodie names like Jelly Bean and Ice Cream Sandwich) to all phones on the network.

(Insert lone bugler playing “Taps” here.)

The phone never recovered. Soon I was getting little warning icons that the phone’s storage was full. I set about urgently deleting old email, unused apps, and photos, but to no avail. The “storage full” icons remained as constant as the “check tire pressure” warning light in my Mom’s car. (We can talk about that another time.)

The thing is: the phone wasn’t even close to being full. It had one of the largest expansion cards available. It was a bug. Verizon happily sent me a replacement phone—factory reconditioned—which required me to “rebuild” or restore all the apps I had installed and re-connect my email. Peace reigned over the land.

Or did it?

Now, I am the first to admit that I have lousy vision. One day I was checking out my newly replaced phone and thought, “Gee, my eyes must be tired, it looks like the screen is pulsating between brighter and darker.” Worries of going blind soon dissipated as I realized that it was indeed the phone and not my eyes. I then began to notice that if I didn’t keep the screen sparkling clean it would either ignore my touch or simply start doing its own frantic thing as if some phantom finger were trying to dial, text, tweet, and email its phantom Mom. (I might add that said Phantom had deplorable taste in music too.)

“If you had an iPhone…” began ringing in my ears. Tinnitus?  No. A barrage of P.R. whetting the world’s appetite for the iPhone 5. I decided to get one and see what the hub-bub was about. All I had to do was wait a couple of months until the happy coincidence of the iPhone release frenzy and my two-year contract renewal date. Would my old phone survive until then?

It survived just fine, whiling away the hours texting, emailing, and tweeting itself. (Perhaps it started a blog?)

No, I was not one of those folks who waited in line outside the Apple store, but I’ve used the phone for two months and I like it. I like the way it’s made, but the flip side to that is that I’m terrified of dropping and damaging it, so it lives in a protective case.

click the time on the recipe and it sets a timer for you

Recently I was scanning the app store and saw that the “Martha Stewart Bakes Cookies” app was on sale for zero dollars and no cents. That’s my kind of gambling, so I downloaded it. I think it is very slick. Here are details of my test drive.

I chose the Thin Mint Cookie—a celebration of cool chocolate—thinking that it would make an excellent holiday cookie. I expected the instructions would ask me to roll out dough and have at it with a circular cookie cutter. Martha’s folks have a fun and easy alternative: you place teaspoon-sized blobs of cookie dough on a cookie sheet. Then you flatten them with the bottom of a drinking glass dipped in water. It works, it’s fast, and even a kid can do it. During the holidays, involving the kids in the family baking is such great idea. Messy? Potentially. Fun? Yeah!

You’re left with very “rustic”, very thin chocolate wafer cookies—but proceed with caution. These can be addictive even without being dipped in mint-spiked melted chocolate. By the way, the iPhone app is so slick that you touch the highlighted direction “bake 8 to 10 minutes” in the recipe text and it automatically sets a countdown timer. Yes, Tim Cook, this is like baking in the Jetson’s kitchen.

Ah: one problem back on earth. Martha’s folks have us spiking the melted chocolate with mint extract. They got this wrong. You really should spike the cookies with the mint, and leave the chocolate as is.

But it’s chocolate: can you ever really go wrong?

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Martha Stewart Makes Cookies is available in the Apple App Store for the iPhone and iPad. It’s free for a limited time only.

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

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Gold Star

Mocha Lady Fingers

a treat for breakfast or later...

There used to be a TV commercial for Stella d’Oro cookies that was based on an ages-old Borscht Belt sketch.

(And, it goes a little something…like this:)

(The scene: a typical upper middle class suburban home. The husband enters.)

Husband:  Darling! I’m home! Where are you?

Unseen Wife:  (a slightly muffled off stage voice) I’m hiding!

Husband:  (Looking around, trying to guess her hiding place) Darling I’m home! I brought you flowers! Where are you?

Unseen Wife:  (still a slightly muffled off stage voice) I’m hiding!

Husband:  Darling I’m home! I brought you flowers!  And Stella d’Oro cookies! Where are you?

Unseen Wife:  (opens the door slightly) I’m hiding! In the front closet!

(In the original sketch the husband was bringing the Mrs. a diamond bracelet. That would open a few closet doors in my neighborhood.)

How many times have you walked by the Stella d’Oro display at the supermarket? Funny the stuff you take for granted. I haven’t been to the East End of Boston for many years (Go Eastie!) but many years ago I somehow found myself standing in a bakery in that part of town. (Me? In a bakery?)

This was one of those places where you walk in and think, “Ah, this is the real deal.” They could have used it as a location for “The Godfather.” I remember buying a few slices of Anisette Toast and thinking (brainiac that I am) “Ohhh, like Stella d’Oro.” Time has not diminished my gratitude to whatever god of silence prevented me from saying that out loud.

Stella d’Oro was actually a local New York City brand. What may have started as a little taste of Arthur Avenue and baked just a few miles up the road from me in the Bronx is now baked in North Carolina.

(Out of towners are now thinking, “Ohhhhh, that’s what the Bronx was for.”)

I am someone who is a sucker for a wrapper with a few foreign words. But during all those oblivious trips past the Stella d’Oro display it has never occurred to yours truly that I was usually ignoring a product whose pedigree was also “the real deal.” In the same way that the formerly ethnic bagel became mainstream, Stella d’Oro’s goodies lost their Bronx-Italian identity and became just another cookie (or bread stick.) You can take the cookie out of the Bronx; can you take the Bronx out of the cookie? I don’t have an answer.

For, as much as I’d like to rip the crinkly cello off a package of Breakfast Treats and pretend that I am eating something baked by my (very imaginary) Italian grandmother, what I really must do is appreciate the cookie itself, the baker’s art that went into it, rather than some romanticized ethnicity that I painted on it for my amusement.

The humble Breakfast Treat is really nothing more than a generously-sized, lightly Anise-scented lady finger. Lady fingers belong to a group of items baked from the recipe commonly referred to as “biscuit” (pronounced, biskwee). Things like jelly roll and sponge are cut from that same cloth. How this differs from other cakes and cookies is that the air beaten into the egg whites is the only leavener used. The only fat is usually whatever is in the egg yolks. While perhaps not as tender as chemically-leavened cakes, biscuit is another “real deal.” It requires a little technique—although with a stand mixer the only real technique may be knowing when to turn the mixer off. More importantly, it calls back to a time before chemical leaveners like baking powder which have only been in widespread use since the early 1800s.

I love baking this kind of stuff. It really asks that you pay attention to what you’re doing. There are a few steps, and a couple of bowls—and one bowl is used, washed, dried, and re-used. But I still think it is easier than pie crust.

To celebrate the humble Breakfast Treat / Lady Finger / biscuit, I decided to make my own. Should I channel my (very much imaginary) Italian Grandmother or add my own little style? What the heck: Granny had her shot, and she “did good.” I’m gonna do my own thing. Out with the anise, in with the coffee and cocoa. Hey why not? They’re breakfast treats, and that’s when I drink coffee. And I’ll put chocolate on just about anything.

Be warned: Lady Fingers are usually piped through a pastry bag. Don’t worry about it. As you can see from the picture above, you can just as easily make little round cookies by dropping a bit of dough from a teaspoon. Here are a couple of easy hints: whip the egg yolks until thick, pale, and creamy. Err on the side of over beating them. The egg whites are a different story. Whip just until they hold a peak when you pull the beater out of the bowl. Err on the side of slightly under beating. Over beaten egg whites will “curdle” and dry out.

Granted these aren’t a “rock your world” cookie. They’re mildly sweet which is what makes them breakfast friendly, but you can easily dress them for dinner by drizzling melted chocolate on top or just dipping them halfway. I’m even going to experiment on the next batch by sprinkling a touch of almond praline powder on top before they bake to give them just the kiss of a sweet, crunchy glaze.

Do you think they’d approve in “Eastie”?

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Click here for the recipe for Mocha Lady Fingers.

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

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If it’s sweets you must send Tweets…

Another Bowl and Spoon “thing”

Tiger-Stripe Brownies

Tiger-Stripe Brownies

I come from a long line of politically incorrect folk, on both sides. Maybe it’s my whole Massachusetts liberal “thing” that makes me, perhaps, a bit too acutely aware of these transgressions? But there’s no escaping it. I had an aunt whose cleaning woman was named “Brownie.” But “Brownie” was white, so go figure that one out. Auntie is long gone so I can’t ask her why her white cleaning woman was named “Brownie”, and I can’t ask my Mother; she just rolls her eyes at the mention of Auntie. (I think that has to do with a sister-in-law “thing”.)

(Oh, my. Another Aunt had one of those lawn jockey sculptures in front of her house. During the civil rights movement in the ‘60’s she painted his face white. That Aunt is long gone too, but for all I know the lawn jockey is still there holding his lamp up to his blushing pale face. )

(I could ask my Mother about that too, but I know her answer would be something along the lines of, “She did? My goodness, what a memory you have…”)

Seems to me that the Brownie—and by that I mean the fudgy, chocolate bar cookie— has been teetering on the edge of all sorts of moral decrepitude for ages now. Freud said, “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar,” but the foul whiff of bathroom humor has also hung over Brownies for me ever since I went to summer camp as a kid. You fill in the blanks on that one. I don’t write that kind of humor. (That would be caused by an uptight liberal “thing”.)

Yet, what are we going to call the Brownie instead? The Chocolate Bar cookie? I think not. It is neither a chocolate bar, nor a cookie.

We liberals have passed this way before. Seinfeld devoted an entire monologue to the racial harmony represented by the Black and White cookie.

I’ll have to go blindly with Freud on this one: sometimes a brownie is just there to satisfy chocolate cravings.

Now, to change the subject slightly (and at this point wouldn’t you?), I recently decided that I needed to unchain myself from what seemed to be an addiction to making things with my Kitchen-Aid stand mixer. I think things had gotten out of hand.

How much marshmallow and whipped cream does one person need to make? I make this claim with only half an apology. Making whipped cream in a Kitchen-Aid mixer is a rush, man. Fast? Let’s just say don’t walk away from the mixer.

Pulling back from this technological addiction seemed a bit limiting at first, but as you can see from the previous paragraph, well advised. Then I reminded myself that my great grandmother came into the kitchen armed only with a bowl and a spoon. (I have skipped a generation. Neither grandmother was a baker. I swear one thought cookies grew in boxes.)

I’ve written about my great grandmother’s kitchen exploits before; she serves as an acute reminder that I can give my Kitchen-Aid a rest and still make some really great stuff. Blueberry Crunch Cake? Done.

In addition to being morally questionable, Brownies are one of the all time great comfort foods. Do you have a friend who just went through a big break up? Nothing fixes a broken heart better than a brownie. (Well, okay, a brownie and some ice cream.) Brownies also make a great birthday cake. To paraphrase a friend, if they don’t like brownies, they must be communist. (Wow. Liberals, communists, Freud, foul whiffs. Happy summer!)

The great unacknowledged truth about brownies is that they are a simple one bowl cookie. Yes, I also know that they say that the best brownies come from a mix, but with all due respect, I disagree on many levels. Shall we break this down?

Cost? The average mix costs about $2.50 per box. To that you must still add your own eggs and oil. Mine? See “quality of cocoa used” below. Cocoa powder is the biggest expense here.

Time? I dunno. Mine are pretty darn fast. And you still have some measuring to do with a mix.

Quality of cocoa used: I know where my cocoa comes from. Betty or Duncan’s? I’m sure it is excellent. (Yes, I’m being condescending.) The truth is, you just don’t know where Betty or Duncan’s cocoa comes from.

Okay, okay, I’ll cave on one area: if you are not much of a baker perhaps the mix is your best bet. I bake a lot, so I have flour and all the other ingredients already. If you don’t bake much you’ll have to buy all that stuff.

But perhaps if you invest in a bag of flour and a tin of excellent cocoa powder you will be encouraged to bake more often? I hear you: a debatable point.

There is one other little nagging item. The mixes contain partially hydrogenated oil, an unhealthy fat. In addition, you need to add your own oil and eggs. My recipe? No partially hydrogenated oil and you can control the quality of all the ingredients, even making the whole thing organic if you wish. No debate there.

What’s the score so far? (Oh, a draw. Darn.)

Okay then, I have one last trick up my (chocolately) sleeve. Tiger stripes. You can’t do these if you make brownies from a mix. These are not to be confused with peanut butter or sour cream which some people—me included—enjoy adding to brownies. The stripes in this recipe don’t introduce any other flavors or ingredients; they are purely for looks. I used to work with a very sweet woman who enjoyed wearing animal prints. These are a toast to her. Make these for someone and they are sure to remember.

You’ll notice that the recipe uses canola oil instead of butter. While there are some health benefits to this choice I must admit I had an ulterior motive. I like my brownies with just a touch of chill on them. I just think the chocolate tastes better that way. If you refrigerate brownies made with butter they aren’t as chewy straight out of the fridge.

The stripes are, of course, optional. If you prefer your brownies monochromatic simply skip that step in the recipe.

That’s a choice “thing.”

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Click here for the recipe for Tiger-Stripe Brownies.

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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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Make ‘em Laugh

Scooter Pie

Hey, Scooter Pie!

I remember once being interviewed by a chef for a job as a waiter in his restaurant. He wanted to impress on me that his establishment was a serious place for people serious about food.

Oh, please. I write a blog about food, so I think my love of food and cooking is fairly obvious.  But I have a hard time taking food seriously. I think we need to laugh at it more. About that, I am serious. (Ironic, no?)

For instance, I laughed at a recent article in the New York Times that described the careful process by which many Tokyo coffee houses make their brew. This includes a careful technique for pouring the water over the grounds.

I use a Melitta filter coffee maker to brew coffee at home. I boil the water and then dump it over the grounds. When I no longer hear the “tinkling” sound I know the coffee is ready. I consider this to be the very height of manual work for my coffee because the Melitta replaced one of those machines that ground the beans and then brewed them at the behest of an electric timer. Do I seem like the type of guy who could ever use a special kettle to boil the water and then stand there pouring said water from said kettle over the grounds just so? No sir! (Or Ma’am.)

Obviously my standards for coffee are lowbrow: I like Dunkin’ Donuts Hazelnut coffee. Apologies. As far as the brewing process is concerned all I ask is that my coffee tastes like coffee and that it not have any grounds at the bottom of the cup. Other than that I’m good, thanks.

Another thing about food that always makes me laugh is when I think back to some of the juvenile delinquents, a/k/a Sous Chefs with whom I worked. Some of these folks spoke like “Dog the Bounty Hunter” while describing that night’s special delicately French-inspired meals. And I was expected to not laugh? Really?

Perhaps the silliest aspect of “foodie-land” is the preciousness of food trends. Back in the nineties it seemed like every chef was stacking things in little ring molds. Nowadays sauce is swiped or painted on the plate, usually a fair distance from the item it is supposed to be accompanying.

I appreciate the commitment, skill, and technique these folks bring to their work. But sometimes I think they are cooking for them and not for me.

Even plain ol’ desserts are not immune. Cupcakes have been huge for a while now. Indeed, little stand-alone joints like Magnolia Bakery or Crumbs have become big chains – I think Crumbs even had an IPO a while back. I’m told you can’t swing a dead cat in Los Angeles without hitting a cupcake store. Saturation, anyone?

Just in time for the growth of the cupcake business comes news that cupcakes are on their way out, and are being pushed aside in favor of pie.

PIE??  Okay, now I know someone is playing me for a laugh. The cupcake thing I totally understand. But pie? Here’s the problem: pie needs a plate and a fork. And ice cream. Even if you make a little pie-for-one, the situation is fraught with danger. You want a laugh? Follow me down the street as I eat a pie. PS: Bring a shovel.

It is interesting to note that while the press says “pie”, the food trucks here in New York are saying, “Whoopie.” As in “Whoopie Pie.”

I love Whoopie Pies, but really, aren’t they are just cupcakes turned inside out? (Or are they cupcakes turned outside in? Ah, no matter.) No complaints from me—they’re yummy—but if we’re really moving on from cupcakes, shouldn’t the departure be a bit more drastic?

So, for the next big street dessert, I hereby nominate an item my Mom used to pack in my lunch box. (For the record, no, I don’t remember what was on the outside of my lunch box. Even if I did I wouldn’t reveal it here for fear of pinpointing my age. Let’s just say it was…um…Justin Bieber.)

The item my Mom used to pack in my lunch box was called a “Scooter Pie.” Scooter Pies were called Moon Pies in other parts of the US, Wagon Wheels in Canada and the UK. A close relative of the Mallowmar, Scooter Pies were a chocolate-covered sandwich of two crunchy cookies with marshmallow in the middle.

Granted, I’m sure you can still find the old fashioned crinkly cellophane-wrapped kind if you look hard enough. But my proposal for making these the next big street food is that they should be taken out of the realm of “Hostess” and into the realm of the artisanal or house made.

This is a task made fairly easy by the fact that the packaged Scooter Pies of my childhood lacked three things: freshness, good chocolate, and a certain delicacy.

I’ll admit this was a bit of a project. After all, I needed to make the marshmallow, the cookies, and then assemble the pies and dip them in the chocolate. But be warned: if you invite me to a Barbecue or picnic this coming summer I will show up with these. A bit of work and time, but the result is so worth it.

For the cookies I borrowed a page from an old “alfajores” recipe, the South American sandwich cookie. It is a very plain, almost dusty, vanilla cookie—actually closer to a sweet cracker. (This cookie recipe would also be great for animal crackers.)

Marshmallow? Make your own once and you’ll never look at a “Campfire” bag the same way again. Homemade has a much more delicate flavor, along with the potential for adding flavors beyond just vanilla.

As for delicacy, you can see from the picture that I only dipped my Scooter Pies in the chocolate half way. I had three reasons for this: the pies would be less cloyingly sweet, I wanted to show off my beautiful, flabby marshmallow, and I had less chance of making a holy mess when I ate my Scooter Pie.

So, what do you think? Have we found the next cupcake?

Please say yes. Or get the shovels ready.

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Click here for the recipe for Scooter Pies.

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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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Love Is Messy (and so am I)

Frozen Chocolate Souffle

Messy? If you want...

I am terribly vain. My vanity is, however, at cross purposes with my manner of eating, which I self-consciously categorize as “voracious.” A friend has observed that when I eat, the rest of the world disappears. The problem with simultaneously being vain and Hoover-esque when one eats is that invariably one’s clothes suffer. I’m working on it.

It’s not that I’m a drooling mess; it’s not that you can look at my shirt and deduce what I had for lunch; no, it is far more subtle. The usual scenario plays out like this: I do my laundry. I iron a shirt. The shirt looks crisp and clean. I then don the shirt and look in the mirror only to spy a small oil stain (last Tuesday’s lemon vinaigrette perhaps?). My spotty history (as it were).

Yes, the obvious answer would be to either disrobe while I eat (frowned upon in public), or to wear a bib (frowned  upon. Period.) The latter reminds me of a middle aged couple I waited on in a hotel restaurant many-something years ago. Mrs. was clothed (amply) in a gold metallic fabric. When her entrée arrived she reached into her (ample) handbag and withdrew a matching gold metallic bib. That picture burned into my vulnerable mind strikes bibs and metallic fabrics off the list of options. Aside from my spotty shirts, I have also become self-conscious (as any truly vain person would be) that I must look like a woodchuck gnawing at a tree when I eat. Again, I’m working on it: my pinkies are up.

Chocolate and roses are the old standbys of Valentine’s Day. Chocolate is dangerous enough, but dip a strawberry or two in it and my white shirts will cower at the back of the closet.

Good news fellow slobs enthusiastic eaters, Valentine’s Day is an occasion when messy food is welcome; you’re consuming it with someone who knows all your flaws, and still loves you anyway. If you get a little chocolate on your face, someone is there to help you figure out how to clean it off (ahem, this is a family blog.)

Yet, it occurs to me that there are a great many folks on whom these gifts would be lost. Countless women in my life have professed over the years to preferring daisies over roses. Another friend says she loves chocolate but it gives her a headache.

This begs the question: if you’ve been told that someone prefers daisies, but the tradition of the day calls for roses, what do you do? I consulted with a friend and fellow blogger, Jenny Beaudry, founder of the global lifestyle brand GiftLoveCharm.com. Very much an arbiter of trends, tastes, and proper gift giving, Jenny assured me in a flutter of tweets that tradition has its place, but if the gift recipient has expressed a preference, then that preference trumps all. Phew, that’s a relief.

By the way, if you’re wondering where all this discussion of my vanity and being a messy eater came from, I can lay the blame on Valentine’s Day. My plan was to write about Warm Chocolate Soufflé. It is the perfect romantic dessert: gooey, warm, and chocolate. I am a huge fan of all soufflé and I think they have gotten a bad rap. The truth is that they are easy to make, dramatic, yadda yadda yadda.

Alas, I’ll have to save Warm Chocolate Soufflé and the yadda yadda yadda for another day. I have been reminded that on Valentine’s Day many people eat out. Therefore I thought it would be a fun (and better) idea to create a little something that can be waiting at home, no oven required.

That’s not to say that the idea of soufflé has been banished. I have simply turned the temperature down. Way down. Cross out the word “Warm” and scribble in the word “Frozen.” While it seems a touch counterintuitive to make something frozen in the middle of winter, in actuality the frozen part is more about preparation than about temperature. Give me a minute and this will make sense.

Frozen soufflé is usually served in the summer, and is usually flavored with lemon or berries—the better to refresh you with a light touch, my dear. The dessert isn’t really served frozen, it is best when allowed to sit for a few minutes so that some of the chill dissipates. This is a preference that sits especially well with me—I don’t like food at either extreme: too hot or too cold. This is especially true of chocolate. I’ve been known to let chocolate ice cream sit out to the point I call “pre-soup.” I think any chocolate just tastes better closer to room temperature. For frozen soufflé the freezer takes the place of the oven; it is the mode of cooking. You’ll let the soufflé sit for a while, and the result will be supple, rich, très chocolat, and potentially très messy.

Fruit-based frozen soufflé often employ a bit of gelatin to pull everything together. I’m not a fan; I think that gelatin can lend a rubbery texture. This is especially out of place with chocolate. Instead, this recipe is based on a sturdy Italian meringue in which the sugar is cooked to the soft ball stage. The foamy meringue gives the whole package its rich airiness.

Yes, a touch of work is required, but the work can be done several days in advance and the result stashed lovingly in the freezer. You can dine out on the big day smirking with the self satisfied knowledge that something good is waiting at home.

Double entendre anyone?

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Click here for the recipe for Frozen Chocolate Soufflé.

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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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My Inner Andy Rooney

Chocolate Mousse

thuuuurrrpp!

I have a theory: if you’ve lived in your home for more than five years, chances are your kitchen and closets have become the house wares equivalent of an archeological dig. The other day I decided that I needed to sort through a few things in my kitchen. That’s my euphemism for “it was a mess and I needed to get rid of stuff.”

I should preface this by explaining that–ice cream maker aside–I never think of myself as a gadget person. I don’t even have a microwave oven, although that has as much to do with being unwilling to surrender counter space as it has to do with function. I know me: I would never cook with the thing and would likely use it for storage. (Like my regular oven, which my sheet pans call home.)

I have a Kitchen Aid mixer–universally accepted as indispensible for bakers–two good sauté pans, two cheap but sturdy saucepans, a rolling pin that could double as a self defense tool, and a huge number of cookie cutters. (Cookie cutters don’t count.) I don’t even have an electric coffee maker or toaster.

Therefore, it was eye opening to “sort through a few things” and find gadgets that I must at one time have considered vital, but that now seem — and this is me being polite — extraneous. Case in point: I have an immersion blender. Please tell me why. I cannot remember the last time I used it or what I made with it. On the other hand the box says it is ideal for making creamy soups right in the pot. Hmmm. I think I’ll hold onto it. For now. Just in case I decide to make creamy soups.

I tossed a coffee grinder. It worked fine, but reeked of some flavored coffee that I can’t seem to stomach. Word of caution about coffee grinders: one mistake and they’re toast. Yeah, I know “they” say you can use them to grind spices, but once you’ve done so they wear their musk like a scarlet letter and their coffee days are history.

I have a rice cooker which I actually do use…once a year. But I have an excuse: I inherited it from a friend who was moving. It’s a keeper. Hey, I may want to make sushi. It could happen.

I have two vegetable peelers. One is made by OXO and I use it frequently for everything from cheese to chocolate, and yes, vegetables. The other peeler I bought from Joseph Ades, New York’s best known street peddler (he was profiled in Vanity Fair ),who was selling them on the street one day. You could say I got caught up in the glamour of that peeler. I use the OXO because it is more comfortable.

Then I came across my old whipped cream dispenser — the kind that you charge with little cylinders of gas. I’m sure I bought this during a long ago foray into the land of the Atkins diet. And not unlike rummaging through an old garage and finding a classic MG roadster hiding under a tarp, I couldn’t resist taking the old girl out for a spin.

She still foamed beautifully, and the roar of her nozzle as she spat out whipped cream was still impressive, so I couldn’t help but wonder if the old gal had some life — and relevance– left in her yet. Is there life after whipped cream? If you follow the intense world of molecular gastronomy, and talented guys like José Andrés and Ferran Adrià then the answer is yes. If you are a home cook like me then the answer is maybe.

As much as I would like to publish a recipe for Asparagus Espuma, I’m afraid my work was much more prosaic: I made Chocolate Mousse. Sounds good, yes? What a dumb idea.

I followed a recipe that I found on line that was created by isi, the manufacturer of the whipped cream canister. The ingredients are fairly straightforward, heavy cream, instant coffee granules, cocoa powder, sugar, and vanilla or your preferred alcoholic addition. Here’s my first complaint: this isn’t Chocolate Mousse, this is chocolate flavored whipped cream.

Here’s my second complaint: it didn’t work. Lots of gas rushed out, but not much mousse. Clearly the mousse was too heavy for the gas. I’m happy to report that the mousse that did come out was good. It had a nice chocolate / coffee bite, and quite a bit of the little bubbles that are usually featured in mousse courtesy of whipped egg whites. But after the mousse stopped the rush of the gas sounded more like the canister was giving me “the raspberry.” While I avoided taking its comment personally, I’ll admit I prefer it when my utensils keep their opinions of me to themselves.

If at first you don’t succeed, use the rest of the heavy cream to try again. My second attempt was better, and yielded more mousse, but featured the same unfortunate comment coda by the canister, which, as a bonus, spat some mousse at me when I opened it for cleaning. Clearly this canister missed its calling and would have been much more at home on the set of “I Love Lucy.”

Alas, the true problem lies with the operator of the canister, not the canister itself (surprise!). I was using heavy cream, which (in the Northeast) weighs in with an average of 40+% butterfat. I should have used Whipping Cream (duh!) which weighs in with an average 36% to 40% butterfat. This would have produced a lighter cream which the gas would likely have been able to push with greater success.

In the meantime, I think I’ll stick to making Chocolate Mousse the old fashioned way: with my MousseMaster 5000!

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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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Holiday On Ice

Chocolate Red Velvet Cupcakes

Chocolate Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Meringue

Like many New Yorkers, my kitchen is air conditioned only on special occasions. As luck would have it, I have several friends and family members whose birthdays fall during the summer. I grew up in a house where birthdays were always marked by a cake, so as an adult I feel compelled to extend the courtesy by baking birthday cakes for my friends. Those are the special occasions when I crank the kitchen a/c to its chilliest setting, which, to my liking, is just short of snowfall.

This weekend as our nation celebrates its birthday (“234?? You don’t look a day over…”) I’m lucky enough to have a friend who has invited me to watch the big fireworks display from her rooftop aerie. I’m using the description “rooftop aerie” more for fun than for accuracy. The truth is, her apartment is relatively modest, although she does have a postcard view of the Empire State Building and shared use of the roof. I’m not sure if her kitchen is air conditioned, even on special occasions. I’m too shy to ask. The question “Is your kitchen air conditioned?” seems a tad too close to “Is your refrigerator running?” for my comfort. I’m a little long in the tooth for what we used to refer to as “chicken calls.”

(You don’t remember “chicken calls?” When we were kids we’d pick folks at random from the phone book, call them, ask, “Is your refrigerator running?” and when they’d say, “Yes” we’d say, “Well you better run and catch it!” and then hang up.)

(Yes, I know it’s not funny. But I was – what – 8 or 9 years old? Where I grew up this was practically considered gang warfare.)

(No, I didn’t learn to cook at the reformatory.)

My second favorite modern convenience, after air conditioning – caller ID – has all but eliminated the scourge of chicken calls.

I am worried about the relative coolness of her kitchen because of the all American menu that has been planned — take out Chinese food and my cupcakes. The Chinese food can take care of itself: I’m worried about the cupcakes. If her kitchen is hot I’ll worry about them sitting out on the counter too long (The frosting will melt.) I also have what they refer to as a scheduling problem, that is, I don’t really have time Saturday or Sunday to bake and frost cupcakes. My only choice is to make them a few days ahead, and then stare fear in the eye by calling ahead to reserve fridge space.

Unlike Mrs. Weasley in the “Harry Potter” books, I don’t have the skills to wave a magic wand and make food appear. So, instead of magic, I’ll let chemistry do the work. I know that many folks insist that you can only bake cookies and cakes with butter. I, however, do not subscribe to such absolutes in baking (or in much else, to be honest.)

Bakers down south have agreed with this tenet for years. True Southern Red Velvet Cake is made with oil, not butter. Aside from making a lighter, springier, cake, oil has the further advantage of solidifying at a lower temperature than butter. What this means for me and you is that we can bake cakes with oil, store them in the refrigerator, and they’ll be light and springy right out of the fridge, unlike butter cakes which need some time to come up to room temperature. In addition, cakes made with oil freeze and thaw beautifully.

All of this got me to thinking about my sister-in-law. One of the “givens” of any chocolate cake made within my family is that it must be large enough for left-overs. After the stress of a long day’s work my sister-in-law eats forks-full right out the box without even removing it from the refrigerator. (And she’s what my Auntie used to refer to as a “mere slip of a thing.”) The point is, sometimes chocolate cake tastes better on the cool side.

On a warm summer Fourth of July night under the stars a nice cool piece of cake would be yummy. Frosting and fireworks. That’s my kind of holiday. Chocolate frosting is okay cold, although I admit it is better when the chill is off. There must be a frosting that tastes good and is the perfect consistency right from the fridge. (Not to mention saving me the round trip down stairs from my friend’s rooftop aerie to take the cupcakes out of the fridge to warm up.) Clearly it was time to get to work in the Butter Flour Eggs Frosting Lab.

I had already decided to bake Chocolate Red Velvet Cupcakes, an oil-based recipe. Red Velvet Cake is usually frosted with a cream cheese frosting but I usually frost Chocolate Cake with Italian Buttercream, which is a cooked meringue beaten with butter. It is smooth and fluffy. Splitting the difference seemed to be the obvious answer, as in Cream Cheese Meringue. I made the meringue as usual, and then beat in the cream cheese. The result was a bit loose, but the advantage of that was that instead of standing frosting cupcakes I merely dipped the tops of the cupcakes in the frosting. Each one came out smooth and perfect, with a little “Dairy Queen” swirly top that drooped as the cupcakes sat a while which lessened the cupcakes’ appeal not a bit.

Yes, yes, I know, Italian Meringue requires you to cook sugar to a specific temperature, and by extension requires the use of a candy thermometer. Never fear. You can substitute a jar or two of Marshmallow Fluff and beat that together with the cream cheese. The result will be a bit sweeter, and perhaps slightly overpower the delicate Chocolate Red Velvet cake, but that fear may be a reflection of my own preference for making things from scratch. Short of a blind side-by-side taste test who’s gonna know?

Either way, they’re Yankee Doodle dandy.

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Click here for the recipe for Chocolate Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Meringue.

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

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Spitting and Fuming

Watermelon Ice with Seeds

Watermelon Ice with Seeds

A  couple of nights ago I met up with a couple of friends at an outdoor cafe. I had the grilled salmon: Salmony, but still rather good. But that’s not why you called. At some point the conversation turned to modern technology. In my own defense: I am not a technophobe. After all, I built this blog with my own two mitts, I own a rather technically advanced cell phone, and I set up my own Wi-Fi network at the Butter Flour Eggs World Headquarters. Yet, during this conversation, something snapped. Let’s just say that my inner Andy Rooney came frothing forth like a certain real housewife ready to tip over a table.

“It isn’t the technology,” I fumed, “It’s the way people use it. If one more person walks into me from behind without even the courtesy of an “Excuse me” because they have their head buried in their BlackBerry, I’m going to knock the thing out of their hands and throw it under the wheels of the next available taxi.”

To which one of my friends sniffed, “I’ll tell you what it is: it’s bad breeding.”

Yikes! I can just imagine what people eavesdropping on our conversation must have thought of us. But it was with that mindset that I went to the market to buy Watermelon for this week’s blog and was greeted by seedless Watermelon.

No, seedless Watermelon isn’t new to me; it has been out there for a few years. But in my cranky mood (and yes, clearly someone needed a nap) I looked at it and was somewhat offended by its seeming lack of modesty about its aesthetic incompleteness. It sat on its bed of ice, smiling at me with a big, pink, toothless grin.

The great masters have included Watermelon in their still life repertoire down through the ages, the ripe fuchsia melon always proudly speckled with little black seeds. Then we come along and change the game. What’s next: a horseless Merry-Go-Round? Barber poles without stripes? Ocean liners without smokestacks? (Okay, just how old am I?)

Of course, I like and embrace the purpose behind seedless technology: no spitting. It’s the visual that just doesn’t work for me.

I mentioned in my blog last week that I recently added an ice cream maker to my kitchen tool belt. Someone please knock the thing out of my hands and throw it under the wheels of the next available taxi. It is addictive. In an effort to stay on the healthy side of the (diet) law I am going to try and confine myself to sorbets, although you should not be surprised if a Creamsicle recipe shows up here before Labor Day.

That’s why I was shopping for Watermelon. I was craving Watermelon Ice. I doubt you’ll find a better remedy for a burning hot summer day. The seedless Watermelon reminded me though, that Watermelon Ice suffers from the same aesthetic deficiency as seedless Watermelon: no seeds. And without seeds it’s just sweet pink ice…yet you can’t really have seeds in Watermelon Ice. Can you?

What to do?

Whenever I am faced with a problem like this I usually assume that the answer is to add chocolate. This time was no exception — news that should make my Sister-In-Law very happy. If the Watermelon has no seeds, then I’ll add my own, in the guise of very edible, very unspit-able, chocolate chips.

Do I hear the sharp intake of breath that signals your collective skepticism at the combination of chocolate and Watermelon? Fear not. Unconventional, yes; unpalatable, a resounding no. Don’t forget: chocolate runs hot, cold, and frozen. The sharp crunch of the frozen chocolate chips masquerading as Watermelon seeds is a happy addition to the icy, delicately sweetened Watermelon, especially since the deep freeze mutes the chocolate, rendering it one half of a very happy buddy system of flavors. Make no mistake: this is not frozen water with a hint of Watermelon flavor. This is unmistakably Watermelon with a capital “W”, cold and as summery as a picnic table with a plastic gingham tablecloth.

The ice itself is fairly simple to make, if perhaps a bit time consuming. Chop the melon, strain the juice, add a touch of sugar and the Ice Cream freezer does the rest. Yes, you can make this without an Ice Cream freezer, but if you choose to do so be prepared for a slightly harder, icier consistency. This is not necessarily a bad thing; the Ice Cream freezer makes a slightly suppler ice that is easier to scoop. And the bonus is that once you’ve mastered Watermelon ice you have a year-round trick up your sleeve: Honeydew Ice in the fall is a nice treat, perhaps with white chocolate chips playing the seeds.

Ahhhhh. All of the sudden, I’m not so cranky anymore.

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Click here for the recipe for Watermelon Ice.

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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

Q: How do you make chocolate bark?

Cherry Cordial Tart

A: Pull its tail.

Sorry. I never met a corny joke I didn’t like. Cherries are a different story. With apologies to lovers of Cherry Pie I must reveal that I can’t abide cooked cherries. Uncooked? Yes. Love ‘em. Cooked? I’ll pass. I think it’s a texture thing, although I think it may also be a taste thing too. Straight from the refrigerator they are so cool and refreshing. Why jump through the proverbial hoop of cooking them?

With all the fresh cherries now showing up in markets everywhere I know the expectation may be for one of those lattice-topped pies to appear in this venue, but I’m afraid the lattice work will, for now, be relegated to the trellis in the garden of my imaginary Hamptons beach house.

(One can dream, yes?)

In the meantime there are fresh cherries to eat. Here’s the thing though: If I’m sitting at home alone after a long day, I have no problem eating the cherries and spitting the pits into a small dish. But if there are other folks present I become self-conscious of such behavior. Perhaps I am overly sensitive. My friends and family are a non-judgmental group and wouldn’t take offense at a bit of cherry pit removal (a/k/a spitting), yet I still think there’s a better way.

Now, I know I said I don’t like cooked cherries, but that doesn’t mean that I hang up my apron during cherry season. The desserts that follow are baked, yes, but my dirty little secret is that I add the cherries uncooked at the end. 

One obvious solution here is shortcake. We’ve been enjoying uncooked strawberries in shortcake desserts for eons, so why not extend that courtesy to cherries? But instead of making a sandwich of the fruit, whipped cream, and biscuit why not turn the whole thing on end and fill a jelly roll with slightly sweetened, kirsch-spiked whipped cream and serve sliced, pitted cherries on top? Folks who don’t like “boozy” desserts can leave out the kirsch, or substitute vanilla. You can also bake the jelly roll recipe as directed then instead of rolling it, slice it into squares and make your sandwich using that instead of the biscuit.

Don’t think that I am ignoring the cherry’s magical, symbiotic relationship with chocolate. Li-Lac Chocolates here in New York has long been famous for their Cherry Cordial chocolates. As much as I admire the fine work that goes into making an artisanal product like that, every time I bite into a Cherry Cordial I can’t help but wish that there was just chocolate and cherry but no goo in the filling.

Here’s my chance to make things – or at least cherries – the way I want them. I have married the best features of Cherry Pie to the best features Chocolate Bark (How do you make…oh sorry. I did that already.) Call it Cherry Cordial Tart.

I prebaked a bit of Pâte Sucré dough in a classic rectangular tart tin. Once the pastry cooled, I poured in a layer of gently melted good milk chocolate, then patiently lined up rows of sliced, pitted fresh cherry halves.

The gimmick is that you’re really making two desserts here. Eaten now, the lukewarm melted milk chocolate becomes like a sauce for the cherries. Eaten later, after a rest in the fridge, it becomes Cherry Chocolate Bark. (What’s amazing is how much more of it you can eat while the chocolate is still warm. It’s very smooth.) My illustration above shows a dab of whipped cream. It is totally unneeded, except to dress up the plate.

Another slightly more portable variation is to use a very simple shortbread cookie dough cut into two or three-inch rounds. Dip them in or paint them with the chocolate, and place the cherry halves on top.

As I write this, I feel compelled to run out and buy an ice cream maker (the late hour makes it unlikely that I will find a local store open. Hmmmm. The internet is still open…) What could be better than my fresh cherries swirled into home-made vanilla ice cream? I could swirl in a bit of the melted milk chocolate – the freezer doing a bit of passive labor to transform the slippery melted chocolate into chunks that would play a counter melody to the chewiness of the deeply chilled cherries.

(I’ll experiment and report back to you.)

Now that’s a dream that doesn’t have to wait until I get that Hamptons beach house.

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

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Run For the Roses (to burn some calories)

Derby Pie (or reasonable facsimile therof...)

Derby Pie (or reasonable facsimile therof...)

A couple of years ago who did I find at the other end of the doorbell but the UPS man bearing an unexpected surprise. Consulting the calendar I realized that Angry April (as in, the month of rain and Tax Day) was careening on its usual collision course with Mild Mannered May (as in, flowers, seventy-degree temperatures, and Memorial Day weekend.) The box bore the return address of a concern named “A Taste of Kentucky.” Thus, like Rubik figuring out his cube, I figured out the puzzle of what was in the unexpected box without opening it: Derby Pie.

My old friend Dori, a native Kentuckian transplanted out west, had sent it. I also deduced that without opening the box. She had been telling me about Derby Pie for as long as I had known her, and now, on the eve of The Kentucky Derby, there was one in my hungry paws.

I’m not an avid horse race fan, but I doubt that I have ever missed watching The Kentucky Derby on TV. I think it has something to do with the formality of the occasion. Very little in American life – save for the odd over the top wedding here or the glitzy Senior Prom there – has retained the cheerful formality of Derby Day.

As I was researching the race I noticed that the corporate sponsor is a company named “Yum!” Foods.

Who knew food could be so funny? (Well, I laughed for you.)

Anyway, many racing seasons ago, a man named George Kern invented Derby Pie at a Prospect, Kentucky restaurant named the Melrose Inn. It was his sugary tribute to the big race.  The local success of this pie should not be underestimated. The Kern Family continues to keep the recipe a closely guarded secret, and has registered the name “DERBY-PIE®” as a trademark. They have even sued to protect the sovereignty of the pie.

Therefore, please be advised that any pies I made in connection with writing this piece are not Derby Pie. (Phew! The Butter Flour Eggs Legal Department can now rest easy.) (Kern’s pie can be purchased at many Kentucky supermarkets, and on line here. There. I’m covered.)

Any cloak and dagger is unnecessary: I come to praise Derby Pie, not to bury it.

So, with all this yadda-yadda about the history of the pie, you’re probably shifting impatiently in your seat waiting for me to describe what the heck this pie is when you bring fork to mouth. When Dori first described it to me all those years ago I thought it sounded like Pecan Pie, but with walnuts instead of pecans. But according to her there was so much more than that to Derby Pie.

Finally, that fated day – and the pie-bearing UPS man – arrived. As Dori directed, I warmed the pie gently, and served it with a dab of vanilla ice cream to, as they say, “…cut the sweet.” Cut the sweet? Too late. When it comes to sweet, this pie is unrelenting. Even a hardened old sweet tooth like me found the pie Sweet-with-a-capital-S. That doesn’t mean I didn’t like it.

Okay let’s step back for a moment. I decided to make my own facsimile of Derby Pie. I used a recipe I found on the internet. (After all, what the heck do I know about Derby Pie?) The recipe, yes, bears a bit of resemblance to Pecan Pie. Did I mention that it contains three types of sugar? A stick of butter? Enough Kentucky Bourbon for me to need a designated driver? Oh, and chocolate chips? (I felt as though I’d been locked in Paula Deen’s kitchen and was cooking my way out.) As I was making the pie I literally thought, “There’s nothing redeeming in this thing.”

And yet…there’s an undeniable Southern Charm to the pie. It is crunchy where it should be crunchy. It is gooey when it should be gooey. The chocolate seems almost unnecessary but then hits you just in time to mellow the sweet boozy sting of the bourbon. The walnuts lend a slightly oilier crunch than the sweet dryness of pecans would. It is rich and too sweet, and how many Southern Belles can y’all describe with those very words? And y’all love ‘em. This pie is like that.

I know that I am usually writing in this space to advocate getting into the kitchen to cook and bake for your own enjoyment. But this is definitely one time when I wouldn’t blame you for ordering the real Kern’s “DERBY-PIE®” instead of making your own. If you decide to use the recipe I linked to above, I suggest that you use more walnuts than called for in the recipe: closer to 1 ¾ cups will give you more caramelized walnuts – I think they are the best part of this pie – and be sure to not fill the prepared pie crust any more than ¾ full, erring on the side of less. Greedily, I over filled mine, it overflowed and burned on the bottom of my oven. (There’s something particularly stinky about burning sugar.) At the very least place your filled pie on a sheet pan or cookie sheet before putting in the oven.

And don’t forget the ice cream to cut the sweet. (!)

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Click here for the recipe for something very similar to Derby Pie, or here to order the real thing.

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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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