Posts Tagged ‘Dessert’

The Sweetest Gift

Brownies for RH

There’s a story behind my most recent batch of this recipe: a seven-pound, one-ounce story, to be exact. It all began on the very first day of law school, when I scanned a room full of strangers and noticed a girl with a dark head of the finest shorn hair I’d ever seen in real life. I could tell, just from that cut, that she was my kind of girl. And not long after we were introduced and began blathering on (much in the same way we do today, I imagine), I knew we’d be friends. My greatest fear in going to law school was that I’d never meet anyone like me, that I’d be forever surrounded by the kind of people whose faces you see on giant billboards, above a phone number reading 1-800-LAWSUIT and a catchy slogan like “WE LIVE TO SUE”. And that’s why finding J (and, later, our most fearless legal leader, K) was so important to me: I just didn’t think it was possible, not in law school, not anywhere. We make all our life-long friends in high school and college, right? With people our own age? Not me. I met my best friend, my sister from another mother, at the ripe old age of 21. She was 30. She didn’t even flinch when I spent days stressing about just about anything there was to stress about (in fact, she was happy to stress along with me). She watched just as much Oprah and reality TV as I did. She sat on her couch critiquing dresses before the Oscars. She’d spent her formative years as an actress, so far removed from the world of law, recording albums and writing plays. She shared my fierce love of avocado grilled cheese sandwiches.  We were meant to be.

And then there were these brownies. I’d like to think we bonded over this recipe. I used to bring them into school around exam time, or when we were extra-stressed (I say extra because it’s in our nature to always be some level of stressed at any given point and it wouldn’t warrant brownies until it reached the increased threat level). J, K and I would grab fistfuls and take them into class. With one bite, all thoughts of torts and contracts and civil procedure melted away. I’ve always referred to them as my “Stolen from a Housemate Brownies”, because I found the recipe scrawled on the back of an old Advanced Oral French syllabus which was left by a former college housemate at the end of the school year (for the record, we didn’t get along, that housemate and I, but I always loved her brownies, and to this day they remain the richest, smoothest and most delightful brownies I have ever made). But, when I make them now, I don’t think of college at all. I think of J, and how becoming her friend was worth the price of my law school tuition.

So on the evening of January 13th (after a day spent feeling completely “fatutzed” (read: full of anxiety and anticipation) following a call from J in labor that morning), when I came home from work and collapsed in a pile of tears over an email reading simply, “Baby boy is perfect. Will call you tomorrow first thing for details. Love you”, it felt right to soothe my soul by making a batch of these brownies. J has had another “pooh” (read: baby), another perfect boy. Her first was born two weeks before I moved to London, and I will spend the rest of my life reminding him of how proud I am he decided to arrive early so that I could meet him. I’ve missed so much of his young life. And this time, I wasn’t even there during J’s pregnancy. Words can’t describe how much I missed talking about names, watching her run to the bathroom in the middle of class, baby showers, nine months of anticipation and – our old buddy – stress. If I hadn’t had made these brownies on baby boy’s birthday, I might have spent the night curled up in a ball, contemplating all I had missed, reflecting on the fact that his birth feels like a bookend, something calling me home and reminding me that, despite all my new adventures, friendships and experiences, I am so far from so many people I need and love. But, thanks to these brownies, my soul was soothed for the evening, baking in my kitchen in honour of the new arrival until it smelled just like my old NY apartment and its red couch on Oscar night. If ever you desire to melt your troubles away, call on this recipe. It’ll be like coming home.

This batch is for Ryan Henry. I wish you a sweet life, richer than the richest brownie.

Brownies for RH

Stolen From a Housemate Brownies

1 tablespoon + 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/4 all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 cups sugar
7 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and place a rack in the middle of the oven.

Take a 13×9 inch pan and turn upside down and cover with aluminum foil (shiny side down) to make a mold. Place foil mold inside pan. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter, place on the foil and smear evenly over the bottom and sides of the pan.

In a 3 quart pot, melt the remaining butter over low heat (make sure there are no bubbles/it does not reach boiling point). Remove from heat and stir in sugar. Add eggs 2 at a time and mix after each addition until incorporated. Add vanilla.

Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add the butter mixture to the bowl and stir until combined.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake about 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a few crumbs (not quite clean).

Cool on a wire rack and then place in the refrigerator overnight to firm. Remove from refrigerator and cut brownies into squares.  Serve at room temperature.

Yield: 16 -32 brownies (depending on the amount of pure, rich chocolate you can handle!).


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Thanksgiving Table

Thanksgiving Plate

When you’ve exhausted all other options in the celebrating-Thanksgiving-out-of-the-country department (eating out, providing dessert, detailing instructions, offering assistance, going to work dressed like a pilgrim, etc.), you are sometimes forced to take matters into your own hands. And so it was this Thanksgiving, my third in London, when I finally caved and admitted defeat: there was just no way for me to enjoy the holiday without making my own meal, one that featured mashed potatoes and my beloved and aforementioned sweet potatoes with marshmallows and cranberry sauce and stuffing done the right way. The way it would be done were I lucky enough to spend the day in the comfort of my family home, watching the parade and enjoying the day off.

But, despite how daunting this task may be and how time-consuming this holiday inevitably becomes, the employment gods took no pity on me and I spent Thursday at work, frantically checking in on the turkey in the oven, which was being tended to by King H and an American friend just in from Paris (she had the pleasure of walking in to find King H pulling the giblets out of the turkey and spent the remainder of the day standing near the stove with him, taking photos for my future enjoyment) and mapping out all I needed to do before the guests arrived that evening. I don’t often find myself faced with lengthy, regimented, multiple day cooking schedules, but last week was full of them: I sat at work mapping out when I could realistically prepare everything, anything in advance without spoiling the taste or quality of the dish. And, now that the dust has settled and the leftovers have sadly disappeared from the fridge, it’s finally time to pass this new-found wisdom on, or at least record it somewhere so that I know it can been done, it has been done and just maybe it could be done again. Because what I discovered about hosting Thanksgiving, aside from the fact that it’s the only way to really cope with the holiday from afar and that it requires all sorts of schedules and lists, is that it’s worth it all and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Though, let it be known all ye gods of employment, I still would prefer the day off.

Finally, it wouldn’t be worth mentioning my Thanksgiving this year without highlighting its theme. I love Gourmet magazine. Always have, always will. I can’t possibly explain the joy that I feel when I see that iconic font peering out at me from the cover page, filled with new recipes and stories that will inspire me for the month and beyond. I’m hopeful anyone of a like mind can understand, despite my inability to articulate, and I know I’m not the only one who is mourning its passing. While I know I will always cling to the recipes I have found in the worn-out pages my old copies and on Epicurious, I am also acutely aware that my days of perusing the Gourmet site are sadly numbered. I thought about this long and hard one day while I was seeking out Thanksgiving ideas from a myriad of sources and suddenly felt compelled to spend this holiday exclusively with Ruth and company. It’s both a tribute and an attempt to hang on to something which I know I won’t ever be able to fully hang on to. For now, I’m at least comforted by the fact that my Gourmet Thanksgiving meal was a rousing success and the knowledge that I couldn’t have done it without that familiar friend. Below are all of the recipes I used, along with notes on preparing these in advance and on how I tailored a few things thanks to advice from our moms, who are so much a part of how this holiday tastes to us, and who have been there so many times before (I have a newfound respect for anyone who takes charge of the Thanksgiving meal). Thanksgiving, I’m now more convinced than ever, isn’t as much about where you are than it is about bringing what you most love to the table*.

Hickory-Bacon and Roasted-Corn Gougères

Hickory-Bacon and Roasted-Corn Gougères
(from Gourmet, November 2007)

I love traditional gougères, but this riff on the classic is a great choice for a Thanksgiving meal. Be mindful, however, of the fact that they taste best warm and should be served immediately when removed from the oven. There’s nothing like hot, melted cheese to tide you over until dinner!

4 hickory-smoked bacon slices (1/4 lb)
3/4 cup corn (from 2 medium ears)
1 cup water
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon pieces
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 to 5 large eggs
1 1/2 cups coarsely grated extra-sharp Cheddar (5 oz)
2 tablespoons grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 tablespoons finely chopped chives

Preheat oven to 375°F with racks in upper and lower thirds.

Cook bacon in skillet over medium heat, turning occasionally, until crisp. Drain on paper towels, then finely chop.

Pour off fat from skillet, then wipe clean. Add corn and pan-roast over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until kernels are mostly golden brown, 10 to 15 minutes.

Bring water to a boil with butter and salt in a heavy medium saucepan, stirring until butter is melted. Add flour all at once and cook over medium heat, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon, until mixture pulls away from side of pan, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and cool slightly, about 3 minutes. Add 4 eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. (Batter will appear to separate at first but will then become smooth.) Mixture should be glossy and just stiff enough to hold soft peaks and fall softly from a spoon. If batter is too stiff, beat remaining egg in a small bowl and add to batter 1 teaspoon at a time, beating and then testing batter until it reaches proper consistency.

Stir in bacon, corn, cheeses, chives, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.

Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper or lightly butter sheets. Fill a pastry bag fitted with 1/2-inch plain tip with batter and pipe about 35 (3/4-inch-diameter) mounds, or spoon mounded teaspoons, 1/4 inch apart, onto each sheet. Bake, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until puffed, golden, and crisp, 25 to 30 minutes total. Transfer to a rack (still on parchment if using). Make more puffs on cooled baking sheets. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Yield: about 140 hor d’oeuvres.

Planning ahead: gougères can be made ahead and cooled completely, uncovered, then chilled in sealed bags 2 days or frozen 1 week (I chose to freeze). Reheat, uncovered, on baking sheets in a 350°F oven 10 minutes if chilled or 15 minutes if frozen.

Testing Turkey

Turkey Carvers
(Dr. T and his surgical skills and the internet provided last-minute carving assistance)

Simple Roast Turkey with Pan Gravy
(adapted from Gourmet, November 2006 and Gourmet, November 2008 and inspired by our moms)

Time now for the centerpiece of any Thanksgiving meal, a mark of distinction which left both King H and I, neither of whom had ever roasted a turkey, feeling a bit overwhelmed. I’ve always been more comfortable in the baking department and am not ashamed to admit that I’ve only started cooking whole chickens over the past year (predominantly to make King H his mother’s beloved chicken and dumplings recipe, but I’m now finding myself obsessed with having chicken stock around the house). A turkey felt like…a whole new beast, especially for a girl who has a pretty ridiculous meat-to-carbs ratio on her plate every Thanksgiving. And one that needed to be tended to while I was away from home. As he did with the yeast rolls described below, King H took charge, lugging the turkey home, de-frosting it for a few days and then baking it over the course of the day on Thursday, all while managing to entertain our just-arrived houseguest and her camera (my life was enriched by the photos she took of him massaging the turkey, even when she wasn’t trying to). I had settled on this turkey recipe because it was assured to be great for first-timers, with no bells and whistles. And, to be honest, I simplified it even more at the 11th hour when I realized I just wouldn’t have the time to prepare the turkey stock in advance, settling instead on chicken stock for both the turkey and the stuffing (next year, next year, I continue to tell myself, so as not to feel a failure…one step at a time). I can now assure you the chicken stock is a fine replacement when there isn’t enough time  to get up close and personal with the giblets. When it came down to it, though, it was once again our mothers who provided the most critical advice, and where and why we veered somewhat from the recipe. First, he washed and stuffed the bird with plenty of salt (more on this method and the rationale behind it can be found below), coated it with butter (making sure to lodge wedges of butter between the skin and bones, as my mother recommended he do. And then…well, I won’t soon forget King H’s frantic calls to me after he placed the bird in the oven and realized the recipe called for the heat to be 450°F , when his mother had just told him (called to the phone at 6am her time, mind you) it should be at 350°F. One call to my mother later and he had the solution: it was fine for him to keep the temperature higher for the first hour or so, but he’d bring it down after that, to let it roast a bit slower over the course of the day, the way both of our mothers’ do. 4 hours later he was pulling our very first turkey out of the oven, while I nearly cried with relief at the smell and sight of it. I wasn’t home, but at that moment I could have closed my eyes and never known the difference.

1 16-lb turkey at room temperature 1 hour, any feathers and quills removed with tweezers or needlenose pliers, and neck and giblets removed and reserved for another use if desired
2-3 tablespoons salt
1 3/4 teaspoons black pepper
2 cups water or turkey/chicken stock

For the turkey:

Put oven rack in lowest position and preheat oven to 450°F. Rinse turkey inside and out, then pat dry. Sprinkle turkey cavities and skin with salt and pepper. A generous amount of salt should go inside the turkey itself – according to my mother, my grandpa, a butcher and a meat inspector for his entire life, used to sear by this method and ensured it would keep the turkey bacteria-free and allow anyone to keep the stuffing inside the bird. The trick is to omit salt from whatever stuffing recipe you are using entirely in order to compensate for all that extra salt in the cavity.

Put turkey on rack in roasting pan. Add 2 cups water or stock to pan and roast for one hour without basting. The lower temperature to 350°F and roast, basting every so often, until thermometer inserted into fleshy part of thighs (test both thighs; do not touch bones) registers 170°F, 3-4 hours.

Carefully tilt turkey so any juices from inside large cavity run into roasting pan, then transfer turkey to a platter, reserving juices in roasting pan. Let turkey stand, uncovered, 30 minutes (temperature of thigh meat will rise to 180°F).

For the gravy:

2 cups hot turkey or chicken stock
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
Melted unsalted butter if necessary
Reserved chopped giblets from stock (optional)

Strain pan juices through a fine-mesh sieve into 2-quart measure and skim off fat (or use a fat separator), reserving fat. Pour pan juices into a bowl and add stock.

Whisk together flour and 1/3 cup reserved fat (if there is less, add melted butter) in a heavy medium saucepan, then cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, 2 minutes (mixture will be thick). Add pan juices and stock in a fast stream, whisking constantly to prevent lumps, then bring to a boil, whisking. Stir in any turkey juices from platter. Chop and add giblets (if using). Simmer gravy, whisking occasionally, 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Yield: 12 servings (with leftovers!).

Planning ahead: sadly, there is none. You’ve got to wing it (pardon the pun). But, in case you wanted more guidance from the man himself, here’s a brief, but harrowing re-telling from King H himself that should perfectly sum up his afternoon: “As for the turkey, I started off using the recipe. I then of course got worried because I saw another recipe that called for 325 degrees, and the bag on the turkey said the same. That is when I freaked out. I wrote you to ask your opinion and you said to call the moms, which I did. I asked them both about cooking it and they both said they do it at 325-350 and that you could cook it higher to get a more crispy outside. So, for the first hour or so I did cook it at the higher temperature and then lowered it to 325. Once it was on 325, I set the timer for every 20 minutes and would baste it. I don’t know if that is the right thing to do or what Ruth Reichl would think of me, but I figured that sounded like a good amount of time. As for the prep, I cleaned it thoroughly like 12 times, then buttered it as you said and stuffed it with butter. Is there anything else you need to know, love?” Thanks, King, H – I think that should do the trick.

Spiced Cranberry Sauce

Spiced Cranberry Sauce
(from Gourmet, November 1991)

This is not your (or at least my) mother’s cranberry sauce – the cloves and cinnamon give it a much-welcomed spicy kick to counter the sweetness of the traditional dish.

a 12-ounce bag of cranberries, picked over
1/2 cup honey
2 to 3 tablespoons firmly packed brown sugar, or to taste
two 3-inch cinnamon sticks
6 whole cloves
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, or to taste
3/4 cup water

In a saucepan combine the cranberries, the honey, the brown sugar, the cinnamon sticks, the cloves, the nutmeg, and the water and simmer the mixture, covered, stirring occasionally, for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the cranberries have burst and the mixture is thickened. Transfer the sauce to a bowl and let it cool. The sauce may be made 2 days in advance and kept covered and chilled. Serve the sauce at room temperature.

Yield: about 2 1/4 cups.

Planning ahead: I made this recipe exactly as suggested, but put it all together on Tuesday night. Not only did it last perfectly until Thanksgiving, but it has become my new favourite cranberry sauce recipe. It may not taste exactly like home, but the spices are so intoxicating and add such a beautiful tartness to the otherwise sweet side dish, that it’s practically perfect in every way.

Brown Butter Mashed Potatoes

Brown Butter and Scallion Mashed Potatoes
(adapted from Gourmet, November 2005)

I must admit: I omitted the scallions. King H and I had a long discussion and he simply felt that the addition of sour cream and brown butter would n these enough from the ones that we both grew up with and that we shouldn’t overdo it (we were going for the most classic meal possible, given we were introducing so many people to the holiday for the first time). I have to say, I didn’t even miss the scallions, though I can’t wait to try these again with them included. The brown butter was once again LINK a hit – people never tire of smelling it and ogling over the nuttiness of it. They were simply outstanding, and I’m proud to say I even instructed my mother to add sour cream and brown butter to her traditional recipe and it was met with just as much success at her meal. Thanks to Gourmet, we created new traditions left and right this year!

5 lb yellow-fleshed potatoes such as Yukon Gold, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 tablespoon salt
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup sour cream
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter
2 bunches scallions, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Cover potatoes with cold water by 2 inches in a 5- to 6-quart heavy pot and add 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until potatoes are tender, 10 to 15 minutes.

Drain potatoes in a colander, then return to pot and cook over moderate heat, shaking pot occasionally, until dry, 1 to 2 minutes. Mash hot potatoes with masher or force through food mill into another pot, then cover to keep warm.

Bring milk with remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons salt just to a boil in a 1-quart saucepan, then remove from heat and stir into potatoes until combined. Stir in sour cream, then cover and keep warm.

Cook butter in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat, stirring frequently and scraping up brown bits, until foam subsides and butter is golden brown, about 8 minutes. Add scallions and pepper and cook, stirring, until slightly softened, about 2 minutes. Fold butter mixture into mashed potatoes and season with salt.

Yield: 8 to 10, with plenty of leftovers.

Planning ahead: Mashed potatoes can be made 1 day ahead and cooled, uncovered, then chilled, covered. (Scallions may discolor slightly when potatoes are made ahead.) Reheat in a microwave or in a heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring. Upon the advice of my mom, however, I made them the day of, right before dinner, although I chopped the potatoes the night before and left them in a pot of cold water to prevent discoloring. She insists mashed potatoes are best fresh and, upon tasting these, I’m inclined to agree with her.

Sage Stuffing

Sage Stuffing
(adapted from Gourmet, November 2008)

This stuffing smelled like home. It was exactly what I needed after 2 years of English stuffing that wasn’t stuffing at my Thanksgiving table. I was a little hesitant to use a fresh baguette, as I know my mother uses pre-dried/cut pieces, but as soon as this came out of the oven I could tell from the smell that all would be well. As a few commentors on Epicurious did, I added about a tablespoon of thyme to this recipe and would highly recommend it. As mentioned above, I also omitted the salt, as the inside of the turkey was heavily salted prior to King H’s placing the stuffing inside.

1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
2 celery ribs, coarsely chopped
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 good-quality baguette (1/2 lb), cut into 1-inch cubes (8 cups)
1/3 cup chopped celery leaves
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped sage
1 tablespoon thyme (optional)
1 cup turkey stock or reduced-sodium chicken broth (plus more for re-moistening if not cooking immediately)
1 large egg

Preheat oven to 400°F with rack in lower third (or prepare oven according to turkey’s instruction, if placing stuffing inside bird). Butter a 1 1/2-quart shallow baking dish or gratin dish if baking separately.

Cook onion and celery in 6 tablespoons butter with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a large heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and toss with bread cubes, celery leaves, thyme (if using) and sage, then cool 5 minutes. Whisk together stock and egg (if stock is hot, gradually whisk into egg), then toss with bread mixture until absorbed. Transfer to baking dish or stuff inside 14-16 pound turkey and dot top with remaining tablespoon butter.

If in baking dish, bake, covered with foil, 30 minutes, then uncover and bake until top is golden, about 10 minutes more. If inside turkey, bake until turkey is ready for serving and is at least 170 degrees Fahrenheit.

Yield: 6. While most of the other recipes (particularly the mashed potatoes) served more than the suggested serving size, I would definitely double the stuffing recipe next time (though it may be hard to fit it all in the bird!). It was the first leftover to run out and the one I missed the most!

Planning ahead: stuffing can be assembled (but not baked) 1 day ahead and chilled (covered once cool). Bring to room temperature before baking, add more stock to moisten and bake or stuff inside turkey. This method worked perfectly for us.

Sweet Potatoes with Brown Sugar and Marshmallows

Brown Sugar-Glazed Sweet Potatoes with Marshmallows
(adapted generously from Bon Appétit, November 1994)

Time for my second admission: I cheated. Ruth, please don’t hate me, but I couldn’t for the life of me find a classic candied yams with marshmallows recipe from Gourmet. It must be the one and only recipe they’re missing! But, what an important recipe it was. As I mentioned previously, this was the dish we had touted to all of our foreign friends, and they came to dinner prepared to hate it, despite all our assurances. And so it was even more critical that this recipe be everything I’d ever dreamed about in mashed sweet potatoes topped with marshmallows (and yes, I have dreamed about them many times over the past few years). In the end, although I used this recipe for guidance, I again found myself on the phone with my mother, who made suggestions and helped me create the dish I remembered from my childhood (this recipe originally called for nutmeg and cinnamon, for instance, but my mother said those additions end up making the dish taste more like pumpkin pie and less like the brown sugary sweet helpings I devoured in the past – of course, if you like pumpkin pie spice with your sweet potatoes, feel free to add the other spices). The one that would, and did, wow and convert even the most ardent skeptics (T, I’m looking at you). Then again, it may have helped that I overdid it so much on the marshmallows that they practically poured out of the pan (I don’t know how, but my mother clearly has more restraint), but that’s no matter in the end. It was the satisfied and smiling faces that made this dish.

4 pounds red-skinned sweet potatoes (yams), peeled, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup packed golden brown sugar (plus a bit more to sprinkle on top)
6 tablespoons butter
1 bag marshmallows or miniature marshmallows (feel free to strike out on your own here, just ensure that when they melt the potatoes will be nicely covered – my imported marshmallows came in small bags, but I recall watching my mother wing it and dump handfuls of mallows from a bag of Kraft jet-puffed marshmallows on top of the potatoes. How I miss the wonder of jet-puffed mallows.)

Preheat oven to 375°F. Cook potatoes in a pot of cold, salted water until boiling, then simmer until tender (about 15 minutes). Mash potatoes with a hand masher. Mix in 1 cup of brown sugar and butter until butter has melted and brown sugar is completely incorporated. Arrange potatoes in 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking dish. Bake potatoes 20-30 minutes or until heated throughout. Top potatoes with marshmallows and return to over for 10 minutes or until marshmallows melt and begin to brown.

Yield: 8 (or more, if you overdo it on the mallows like someone I know).

Planning ahead: Unlike the mashed potatoes, I did make the sweet potatoes on Wednesday, both for my sanity and for the fact that they would be re-heated in the oven in any case. I cooked and mashed the potatoes on Wednesday, mixed in the brown sugar and butter and left the potatoes in the baking dish, covered with foil, until dinner was nearly ready on Thursday. I then heated the potatoes and added marshmallows, giving myself enough time to ensure the potatoes would be hot/melted when served.

Featherlight Yeast Rolls

Featherlight Yeast Rolls
(from Gourmet, January 2008)

I found myself caught between a rock and a hard place at 1 am Wednesday night, when I finally admitted to myself that I couldn’t conceivably wake up at 6am and prepare these rolls before heading to work. King H, who introduced me to dinner rolls, having been served them homemade by his mother since childhood, was more than willing to assist (just one of the many things I was thankful for this year). He informed me he woke around 8 and prepared the dough, only to realize we had run out of flour! One frantic visit to the grocery store later (and about the same time our friend popped off the Eurostar) and he was back in the kitchen assembling a new batch. When I arrived home I removed the dough from the fridge and set to assembling and baking them. I can now concur that these are, indeed, “so light and fluffy they almost levitate”, although I must admit I prefer my usual recipe, despite the fact that levitating rolls could provide quite the dinnertime entertainment. One piece of advice: I would stray from the instructions and dot the rolls with butter after they’ve baked. Then the rolls remain moist and light, as opposed to a bit drier and crustier than my typical recipe.

1 russet (baking) potato (1/2 lb), peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 stick unsalted butter, divided
1/2 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 (1/4-oz) package active dry yeast
2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour

Generously cover potato with cold water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, then simmer, covered, until very tender, about 10 minutes. Reserve 1 cup cooking liquid, then drain potato well.

Meanwhile, melt 2 1/2 tablespoons butter.

Mash hot potato in a large bowl with a fork. Stir in milk, salt, 2 tablespoons sugar, and 2 tablespoons melted butter (mixture will be lumpy).

Cool 1/2 cup cooking liquid to warm (105 to 115°F ). Stir in yeast and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. (If mixture doesn’t foam, start over with new yeast and remaining cooking liquid.)

Stir yeast mixture into potato mixture, then stir in flour with a wooden spoon until a soft dough forms.

Turn out dough onto a floured surface and knead, dusting surface and hands with just enough flour to keep dough from sticking, until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes (dough will be slightly sticky).

Brush a large bowl with some of remaining melted butter, then turn dough in bowl to coat. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise, chilled, 8 to 12 hours.

Punch down dough (do not knead), then halve. Roll each half into a 12-inch-long log on a very lightly floured surface with lightly floured hands. Cut each log into 12 equal pieces and roll each into a ball.

Arrange evenly spaced in 6 rows of 4 (less than 1/2 inch apart) in a buttered 13- by 9- by 2-inch baking pan.

Cover pan with a kitchen towel (not terry cloth).

Let rolls rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until doubled (they will fill pan), 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Preheat oven to 375°F with rack in middle.

Melt remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons butter.

Brush top of rolls with melted butter and bake until golden-brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Loosen edges with a sharp knife, then transfer rolls to a rack and cool slightly.

Yield: 24 rolls.

Planning ahead: Rolls are best the day they’re baked but can be frozen, wrapped well, up to 1 month. Thaw, then reheat, uncovered, on a baking sheet in a 350°F oven, 5 to 10 minutes. I opted to go fresh, but the rolls could be made earlier in the day and gently reheated. I found, however, that since this particular recipe calls for an 8 hour rest period, it’s easy to make them in the morning and then shape them before your guests arrive, letting them rise until hor d’ourves have been served and then heating them in the over until dinner.

Pumpkin Pie

Pumpkin Pie
(from Gourmet, November 1999)

A classic pumpkin pie recipe to win over even the most skeptical Europeans, albeit a much lighter version than the one on the back of the Libby’s can. Making both of these pies (using the same crust recipe below) taught me another important holiday lesson: as much as you may love and trust your now defunct cooking magazine, always do what has worked for you in the past, particularly when it’s something your mother taught you. I always, always put foil around my pie crusts to keep them from burning (particularly in England, where my oven is volatile at best), but, considering I wanted to follow Gourmet religiously, I omitted this step. An hour later, I was hitting myself for it and apologizing to my mother repeatedly for discarding her method while at the same time sending her photos of the results to get her opinion. She talked me off the ledge, assured me the tiny leaves I’d painstakingly crafted for the pumpkin pie were not for naught and suggested I put whipped cream about the pecan pie edges when I served it and no one would ever know the difference. Thankfully, she was proved right (birthday candles for B helped matters) and I will never be baking pies without foil. Again.

For the dough:

3/4 stick cold unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cold vegetable shortening
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 to 4 tablespoons ice water
Cut butter into 1/2-inch cubes.

To blend by hand:
Blend together flour, butter, shortening, and salt in a bowl with your fingertips or a pastry blender until most of mixture resembles coarse meal, with rest in small (roughly pea-size) lumps. Drizzle 2 tablespoons ice water evenly over and gently stir with a fork until incorporated.

To blend in a food processor:
Pulse together flour, butter, shortening, and salt in a food processor until most of mixture resembles coarse meal, with rest in small (roughly pea-size) lumps. Add 2 tablespoons ice water and pulse 2 or 3 times, or just until incorporated.

Test mixture:
Gently squeeze a small handful: It should hold together without crumbling apart. If it doesn’t, add more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, stirring or pulsing 2 or 3 times after each addition until incorporated (keep testing). (If you overwork mixture or add too much water, pastry will be tough.)

Form dough:
Turn out onto a work surface and divide into 4 portions. With heel of your hand, smear each portion once in a forward motion to help distribute fat. Gather dough together and form it, rotating it on work surface, into a disk. Chill, wrapped in plastic wrap, until firm, at least 1 hour.

Yield: one single-crust 9-inch pie or a 10- to 11-inch tart.

For the pie:

15-oz can canned solid-pack pumpkin (about 2 cups)
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup whole milk
2 large eggs
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
Pinch of ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt

Make pastry dough as directed above. Roll out dough into a 14-inch round on a lightly floured surface and fit into a 9-inch glass pie plate (4-cup capacity). Crimp edge decoratively and prick bottom all over. Chill until firm (30 minutes in the refrigerator or 10 minutes in the freezer).

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Line shell with foil and fill with pie weights. Bake in middle of oven 20 minutes. Remove weights and foil and bake shell until pale golden, 6 to 10 minutes more. Cool in pan on a rack. Whisk together pumpkin, cream, milk, eggs, brown sugar, spices, and salt, then pour into shell.

Bake pie in middle of oven 45 to 50 minutes, or until filling is set but center still trembles slightly. (Filling will continue to set as pie cools.) Transfer to rack and cool completely.

Yield: 8 servings.

Planning ahead: the recipe suggests this pie and the crust can be made 1 day ahead and chilled, covered, but crust will not be as crisp as if made day of serving. I went ahead and made the crusts for both this and the pecan pie on Tuesday and made both pies on Wednesday and fortunately couldn’t taste a difference the next day.

Thanksgiving Pies

Old-Fashioned Pecan Pie
(from Gourmet, November 2009)

The classic pecan pie recipe you’d expect to find somewhere down South (or at least a place where Karo Corn Syrup is readily available).  A nice bonus to this recipe is that the pecan halves rise beautifully to the top, unlike many recipes I’ve used in the past which call for the pecans to be chopped.

Pastry dough (see recipe above)
3/4 stick unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups packed light brown sugar
3/4 cup light corn syrup
2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
2 cups pecan halves (1/2 pound)

Preheat oven to 350°F with a baking sheet on middle rack.

Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin into a 12-inch round and fit into a 9-inch pie plate. Trim edge, leaving a 1/2-inch overhang. Fold overhang under and lightly press against rim of pie plate, then crimp decoratively. Lightly prick bottom all over with a fork. Chill until firm, at least 30 minutes (or freeze 10 minutes).

Meanwhile, melt butter in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add brown sugar, whisking until smooth. Remove from heat and whisk in corn syrup, vanilla, zest, and salt. Lightly beat eggs in a medium bowl, then whisk in corn syrup mixture.

Put pecans in pie shell and pour corn syrup mixture evenly over them. Bake on hot baking sheet until filling is set, 50 minutes to 1 hour. Cool completely. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream (the nutmeg ice cream recipe below was perfect with both this and the pecan pie).

Yield: 8 servings.

Planning ahead: pie can be baked 1 day ahead and chilled. Bring to room temperature before serving. As mentioned, I made both pie crusts on Tuesday and baked this on Wednesday. Per my mother’s astute advice, I kept the pie uncovered in the fridge, to help avoid the condensation that so often ends up on the top of a pumpkin pie that’s been in the fridge. I removed the pie from the fridge about 2 hours before serving (as I was readying dinner) and it was at room temperature by the time I served it for dessert.

Thanksgiving Pies and Nutmeg Ice Cream

Nutmeg Ice Cream
(from Gourmet, November 1990)

The idea to make ice cream came to me as soon as I started contemplating this daunting meal and what I could possibly make in advance. Ice cream was the perfect dessert choice, because I knew my time machine (read: the freezer) could handle a batch well before Thanksgiving and that I wouldn’t risk losing any flavour. Ice cream was made for the freezer and this recipe was made for Thanksgiving. It was creamy and custardy, just like the best ice creams should be, and yet it was incredibly simple to make. The taste of the nutmeg mixed wonderfully well with both the pumpkin pie and the pecan pie. I will be making this every Thanksgiving if I have my way. I may even add some chunks of chocolate to it or steep some cloves with the cream for a nice fall kick. The Stone Cold wanna-be in me can even see crumbling some cooked pie crust and a bit of pumpkin puree in there and calling this Pumpkin Pie Ice Cream. Because any way you chose to serve it, this recipe is a winner.

1 1/2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
3 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon vanilla

In a saucepan bring the milk and the cream just to a boil. In a bowl whisk together the eggs, the sugar, the nutmeg, the salt, and the vanilla, whisk 1/2 cup of the milk mixture into the egg mixture, and whisk the mixture into the remaining milk mixture. Cook the custard over moderate heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spatula, until it registers 175°F on a candy thermometer. Transfer the custard to a metal bowl set in a larger bowl of ice and cold water and stir it until it is cold. Freeze the custard in an ice-cream freezer according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Yield: 1 quart.

Planning ahead: yes! I made this on Monday, but it can easily be made even further in advance. I would advise removing it from the freezer at least 15 minutes before dessert, however, that way it isn’t rock solid (I don’t know about you, but I prefer my ice cream a bit on the mushier side). I also use an ice cream scoop when I transfer the ice cream from the ice-cream maker to the freezer, which then makes it easier to dish out scoops at will. If you’re not eating it all at once by yourself, of course…

*And, speaking of the table, a great idea from Martha Stewart, was the perfect complement to the piles of food we left in our wake.

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Pumpkin Cake with Brown Butter Icing

There are so many cooking supplies that I’ve learned to live without in England (cake flour, kosher salt, corn syrup, molasses, proper marshmallows and graham crackers to name but a few), but I’m pleased to report that Libby’s canned pumpkin is not one of them. Somehow, Libby’s has made it across the pond in spades and I am currently able to buy it one can at a time without fear of it falling off the shelves inexplicably and sans any sort of notice (why, yes, I am still traumatized by the removal of Skippy’s from the shelves of Waitrose and now hoard it in batches of seven or more wherever I can find it). And although I applaud anyone who makes their own pumpkin puree, there is something so nostalgic for me in that little Libby’s can that I just can’t give it up. It instantly reminds me of Autumn at home as a child, helping my mother prepare pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving or pumpkin cheesecake for Halloween or…pretty much any dessert including pumpkin. I wouldn’t want to bake during this time of year without it.

This cake was prepared during one such fit of nostalgia, when I woke up on a rainy Sunday morning to watch my brother run in the ING New York City Marathon on a tiny computer feed. I used to live minutes from the finish line in Central Park and would march down each year to cheer on the runners, always wishing I could see FDW among them. My brother, never one to shy away from pain or athletic feats (how unlike his sister), has run many a marathon, but it was NY that always eluded him. That was until he finally achieved a qualifying time and was automatically cleared for entry this and any year in the future. You can’t imagine just how thrilled I was for him and yet how crushed I was at the same time to know I wouldn’t be there to see it in person. It’s such a give and take, this European adventure of mine – one weekend I’m walking through Amsterdam, thrilled at all the opportunities I’ve had to travel over the past few years and the next I’m so fiercely wishing I was home I can’t see straight. That’s where this cake came in: baking, as it so often does, became a way for me to escape on Sunday, to clear my mind of worry for FDW’s run and sadness at my inability to be standing at the finish line, banging pots and pans and cowbells (I’m sure the other spectators are thankful I wasn’t there, come to think of it). I dragged the computer down to the kitchen on Sunday afternoon, still sleepy from staying up half the night to watch the Yankee game (another downside of the cross-continental divide), and watched my brother’s little tracker move from mile to mile, over the Verrazano, through Park Slope, up First Avenue and all the way to the park, while I baked and ate this delicious pumpkin cake. It was simply enough to prepare while simultaneously tracking one runner in a sea of thousands, but the brown butter icing and caramelized pecans (I didn’t have walnuts, but prefer pecans in any event) gave it a sophisticated taste that made me feel like it should have taken much longer to bake and assemble. The combination of the pecans and the thin layer of brown butter icing is a success in itself, so much so that I’ve taken to saving that bit of each slice for last. That combination, coupled with an incredibly moist yet subtle pumpkin base, made this cake an Autumn dessert worthy of being added to my permanent Libby’s line-up. It also officially sold King H on brown butter for life. He was astounded by its nutty taste, as am I nearly every time I make it.

It defies logic to think that a pumpkin cake made for someone while they were running a marathon, a cake they would never even get to eat, would spur them on and entice them, too, but I’d like to think FDW would have been pleased to think of me baking away while he ran his heart out. It’s the way it’s always been in our family, the way I remember it, and the way I hope it will be the next time he’s running on the first Sunday of November, when I’m standing there banging my pots and pans like a loon. So here’s to FDW, the boy who bonked and still reached the finish line in three hours – I’ll eat to that.

Pumpkin Cake with Brown Butter Icing

Pumpkin Cake with Brown Butter Icing
(adapted from Martha Stewart)

For the cake:
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup homemade Pumpkin Puree, or canned
1/2 cup warm (110 degrees Fahrenheit) milk

For the icing:
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup sifted confectioner’s sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 to 2 tablespoons milk

For the caramelized walnut/pecan halves:1/2 cup sugar
10 well-shaped, large walnut or pecan halves

Heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter a 9-by-2-inch round cake pan. Line pan with parchment, and butter the parchment. Coat pan with flour, and tap out any excess.

In a large bowl, sift together flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, salt, baking powder, and baking soda; set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat sugar and butter together until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add eggs, and beat until combined. Add pumpkin puree and milk; beat until combined. Add reserved flour mixture; beat on low speed until just combined.

Pour batter into prepared pan, and bake until a cake tester inserted into the middle comes out clean, about 55 minutes. Transfer the cake to a wire rack to cool. Let cake rest 20 minutes.

In a small skillet, melt sugar over medium-high heat until medium golden, about 3 minutes. Remove skillet from heat. Working quickly, drop walnut halves, one at a time, into the melted sugar. If the sugar hardens, return skillet to low heat, and stir several minutes. Using a fork, turn walnuts until they are evenly coated. Transfer walnuts to a wire rack to cool completely.

In a small saucepan, melt butter over medium-high heat until nut-brown in color, about 10 minutes. Remove pan from heat, and pour butter into a bowl, leaving any burned sediment behind.

Add sugar, vanilla, and 1 tablespoon milk; stir until smooth. If the icing is too thick, add the remaining tablespoon milk, a little at a time, until consistency is spreadable. Let cool 5 minutes.

Unmold cake. Using an offset spatula, spread icing over top of cake, and decorate with caramelized walnut or pecan halves.

Yield: 8 to 10 servings.

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Cream Cheese Pound Cake with Spearmint-Lime Glaze

I have a confession to make: I purchased a Bundt pan nearly a year ago and, up until this weekend, I had yet to use it. It feels good to get that out in the open. I’ve discovered that’s the beauty of the Bundt pan, though: when one has made enough brownies and cupcakes and tarts and crumbles to last a lifetime (or at least a summer), there it is, the promise of a dense and delicious slice of pound cake, staring back at you from/falling out of your ridiculously overstuffed cupboard like some sort of divine culinary sign (or perhaps just a sign that you need to do some cleaning).

I will be the first to admit what a mistake it was to wait this long to put that Bundt pan to use, particularly if everything I make in it from now on is even half as good as this gem from Flo Braker’s Baking for All Occassions (one of my favourite go-to dessert books). I stumbled upon this recipe on Saturday afternoon when I found myself in an unusual mood for dessert simplicity. Normally what I love most about baking on the weekends is the lack of time contraints, albeit such a lack often leads to marathon sessions in the kitchen at all hours and a trail of flour in my wake come Monday morning (have I mentioned how badly I need to clean?!). But, this weekend, I wanted none of it. Perhaps it was my eventful tart-making escapade the previous weekend, or the fact that I had batches of Polperro chips to dunk in hot oil, or that we’d spent the past two weeks knee-deep in the most decadent peanut butter brownies EVER. Whatever it was, I set out to peruse a few cookbooks with the express desire to find something simple, not too sweet, but a bit summery, befitting of one of our final barbecues of the season. I was sold on this recipe the minute I read Flo’s preface to it – this cake, she assured me, is simple and perfect for a leisurely picnic beneath a shady tree. And, it is. It’s dense, citrus-y, incredibly easy to prepare and the speariment-lime glaze gives it a moist inside that almost makes you forget you’re inhaling a solid pound of cream cheese and sugar. But, my favourite part by far is the very bottom, where the cream cheese batter bakes to form a sweet crust that is simply heavenly and which has to be tried to be believed. This is the kind of recipe that will draw your co-workers into your office on a Monday morning to tell you you’re in the wrong line of business (oh, how I love those recipes!). It works for dessert, it works for breakfast, it works for a snack…it works for everything. I’m pretty sure it could cure anyone’s easing into Autumn blues and I, for one, plan on making it again and again. King H is already begging for more, for one, and that Bundt pan refuses to work its way back into the overstuffed cupboard. A divine culinary sign, if you ask me.

Cream Cheese Pound Cake with Spearmint-Lime Glaze

Cream Cheese Pound Cake with Spearmint-Lime Glaze
(from Baking for All Occassions)

For the cake:

3 1/4 cups (13 ounces/370 grams) cake flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
9 ounces (2 1/4 sticks/255 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
One 8-ounce (225-gram) package cream cheese, at room temperature
3 cups (1 pound, 5 1/4 ounces/600 grams) granulated sugar
6 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (or 325 degrees Fahrenheit if the pan has a dark finish). Butter a 10 by 3-inch Bundt pan, light coat it with nonstick spray, then flour it, tapping out the excess flour. Have all of the ingredients at room temperature.

Sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt onto a sheet of waxed paper; set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter and cream cheese on medium speed until creamy and smooth, 30 to 45 seconds. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl. On medium speed, add the sugar in a steady stream and continue to beat until light in color and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Stop the mixer occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl.

With the mixer still on medium speed, add the eggs, 2 to 4 tablespoons at a time, beating after each addition until incorporated. The entire process of adding and beating the eggs should take 2 to 3 minutes. Add the vanilla and lime juice during the final moments of mixing. On the lowest speed, gradually add the flour mixture, mixing after each addition only until incorporated and stopping the mixer occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl. The entire process of adding the flour mixture should take about 2 minutes. Detach the paddle and bowl from the mixer, and tap the paddle against the side of the bowl to free the excess batter. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the lime zest. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly with the spatula.

Bake the cake until golden and a round wooden toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean, about 1 1/4 hours. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool for about 10 minutes while you prepare the glaze.

For the spearmint-lime glaze:

6 tablespoons (3 fl ounces/90 ml) water
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup lightly packed spearmint leaves
1 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons (5 ounces/140 grams) powdered sugar
2 teaspoons finely grated lime zest

In a small saucepan, combine the water, lime juice, butter and mint leaves over low heat just until the mixture bubbles around the edges. Remove from the heat and let steep for 1 minute.

Without delay, tilt and rotate the cake pan while gently tapping it on a counter to release the cake sides. Invert a wire rack on top of the cake, invert the cake onto it, and lift off the pan. Slide a sheet of waxed paper under the rack to catch any drips from the glaze.

Press the mint leaves against the side of the saucepan to release most of the moisture, and then discard the mint leaves. Stir the sugar and lime zest into the liquid until smooth. Using a pastry brush, coat the top and sides of the warm cake with all of the glaze. Let the cake cool completely before serving. As the cake cools, the glaze sets up to form a shiny coating.

To serve, slide the bottom of a tart pan, a small rimless baking sheet, or a large offset spatula under the cake and carefully transfer it to a serving platter. Cut into thin slices with a serrated knife.

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Brownie Buttons

I thought it was high time I quit admiring Dorie Greenspan from afar and get into the action at Tuesdays with Dorie, a community whose contributors aim to bake something from Dorie’s mouthwatering book, Baking: From My Home to Yours, once a week. And so, without further ado, here are Dorie’s Brownie Buttons: bite-sized brownies with a hint of orange, dipped in melted white chocolate. They are heavenly, just like Ms. Greenspan herself (and, it should be noted, FDW, who, after pausing only once to tell me “this cookbook is huge!”, lugged Dorie’s book across the Atlantic without question, all the way from New York to Prague and finally to London, just so I could bake from it). They are also addictive. In fact, I will most assuredly be doubling the recipe next time around and also trying a batch sans the orange, because the English have run me ragged when it comes to chocolate and orange flavoured confectionary. But, for now, here’s to the first of what my tastebuds can only hope are many more sweet Tuesdays to come…

Brownie Buttons

Brownie Buttons
(from Baking: From My Home to Yours)

For the brownies:

grated zest of 1/2 orange (optional)
1 tsp sugar (optional)
¼ cup plus 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
pinch of salt
½ stick (4 tbsp) unsalted butter cut into 4 pieces
2 ½ oz bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (I used Valrhona 64%)
⅓ cup (packed) light brown sugar
½ tsp pure vanilla extract (I used tahitian vanilla this time around)
1 large egg

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly butter two miniature muffin pans, each with a dozen cups, and place them on a baking sheet.

If you’re using the orange zest, combine the zest and sugar in a small bowl, rubbing them between your fingertips to blend; set aside. Whisk together the flour and salt.

Melt the butter, chocolate and brown sugar in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over very low heat, stirring frequently with a heatproof spatula and keeping an eye on the pan so nothing overheats and burns. When the mixture is smooth, remove from the heat and cool for a minute or two.

Stir the vanilla, egg and the zest, if you’re using it, into the chocolate mixture. When the mixture is well blended, add the flour and stir only until it is incorporated. You should have a smooth, glossy batter.

Spoon the batter into 16 of the muffin cups, using about a teaspoon of batter to fill each cup three-quarters full. Put 1 teaspoon of water in each empty cup.

Bake for 14 to 16 minutes, or until the tops of the buttons spring back when touched. Transfer the pans to racks to cool for 3 minutes before carefully releasing the buttons. Cool to room temperature on the racks.

For the optional glaze:

2 oz white chocolate, finely chopped

Melt the chocolate n a small heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water. Stir constantly and don’t leave the chocolate for even a minute – white chocolate scorches easily. As soon as the chocolate is smooth, remove from the heat.

One by one, dip the tops of the buttons into the chocolate, twirling the buttons so that you get a little swirl at the center of each one and the excess chocolate drips back into the bowl. Refrigerate the buttons for 15 minutes to set the glaze.

Yield: 16 pretty little buttons.

Brownie Buttons

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Strawberry Cupcakes

There are few things finer in life than spending a Friday night in the company of friends who appreciate food as much as I do. And so it was that we gathered together at Kai, drawn in to its Mayfair doors not so much by the Michelin star (well, at least some of us) or the £1 million Bugatti sitting outside, but by the delicious memory of their wasabi prawns, an appetizer that captivated each one of us at the Taste of London earlier in the summer. Suffice it to say, we were not disappointed: not only were the wasabi prawns as perfect as we remembered them, but, coupled with the ostrich and the pork and the sea bass and the soft shell crab and the lobster essence noodles and the mandarin fondant and the mango cake, it was a true feast. A feast bookended by strawberry cupcakes (as both an appetizer in The Promenade at The Dorchester beforehand, where the presence of a plastic cupcake carrier and three folks munching away while sipping gin and tonics and listening to a fancy jazz band was, I’d imagine, a first and a post-dessert dessert), made to satisfy two of my favourite food critics. These cupcakes were simple enough to put together after a long day of work, which was why they initially made the cut over a more time consuming recipe, and yet light and sweet, a perfect summer treat.  I can say, without hesitation, that I’ll be re-visiting this recipe again and again.  I can also say that I hope to be re-visiting Kai again and again, cupcake carrier in hand and the perfect culinary accomplices seated next to me.

Strawberry Cupcakes

Sprinkles’ Strawberry Cupcakes
(adapted from the Sprinkles recipe, courtesy of Martha Stewart)

For the cupcakes:

⅔ cup whole fresh or frozen strawberries, thawed
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour (or 1 cup all-purpose flour and ½ cup self-rising/raising flour*), sifted
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon coarse salt
¼ cup whole milk, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 large egg, room temperature
2 large egg whites, room temperature

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with cupcake liners; set aside.

Place strawberries in a small food processor; process until pureed. You should have about ⅓ cup of puree, add a few more strawberries if necessary or save any extra puree for frosting; set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside. In a small bowl, mix together milk, vanilla, and strawberry puree; set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter on medium-high speed, until light and fluffy. Gradually add sugar and continue to beat until well combined and fluffy. Reduce the mixer speed to medium and slowly add egg and egg whites until just blended.

With the mixer on low, slowly add half the flour mixture; mix until just blended. Add the milk mixture; mix until just blended. Slowly add remaining flour mixture, scraping down sides of the bowl with a spatula, as necessary, until just blended.

Divide batter evenly among prepared muffin cups. Transfer muffin tin to oven and bake until tops are just dry to the touch, 22 to 25 minutes. Transfer muffin tin to a wire rack and let cupcakes cool completely in tin before icing.

Yield: one dozen cupcakes.

For the frosting:

½ cup whole frozen strawberries, thawed
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, firm and slightly cold
Pinch of coarse salt
3 ½ cups confectioners’/icing sugar, sifted
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Place strawberries in the bowl of a small food processor; process until pureed. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together butter and salt on medium speed until light and fluffy. Reduce mixer speed and slowly add confectioners’ sugar; beat until well combined. Add vanilla and 3 tablespoons strawberry puree (save any remaining strawberry puree for another use); mix until just blended. Do not overmix or frosting will incorporate too much air. Frosting consistency should be dense and creamy, like ice cream.

Yield: enough frosting for one dozen cupcakes.

* I admit the unthinkable happened in my kitchen at 10:30pm on Thursday night: I ran out of AP flour, an ingredient I usually have in endless supply. I did, however, have a stockpile of self-rising/raising flour, which immediately made me think of that other cupcake giant, Magnolia, who swears by it. Out of both necessity and a fierce love for the east coast, I ended up using about a half cup of self-rising flour and a cup of AP flour and, I have to say, was thrilled with the result. In fact, I’d probably do it this way again, even when fully stocked with AP flour and, if you’re not a Sprinkles purist, would recommend you do so, too.

Strawberry Cupcakes

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Once upon a time, a twenty-something pseudo-lawyer packed up her belongings (admittedly mostly kitchen supplies and records) and left the comfort of her home in New York to experience life in a land where people drive on the opposite side of the road.  And have funny accents.  And love digestives and Fawlty Towers (preferably when taken together). And use words like “queue” and “courgette”.  And put periods outside of quotation marks.  But, a funny thing happened to her when she got there: she realized that it wasn’t just London that she loved (though she loved it more than she could describe, particularly when she rode out her front door on her bicycle each morning headed to work, past the parks and the Victorian houses and the occasional irate taxi driver), but all the places she could so easily reach from there.  She soon discovered that there were far too many places to see and far too many foods to try (her stomach emphatically concurs).  The downside of this was that planning a weekend could often be a more daunting task than whatever she did at work all week.  The upside was, aside from the beauty and the people and the life-changing experiences, of course, all the new and wonderful things that she ate.

There are so many new culinary discoveries I want to document and share here, but let’s focus for once, Miss Rose, and begin at the beginning: a bank holiday weekend in Madeira, the “Hawaii of the Atlantic”, a true jewel of an island off the coast of Africa. Aside from the smell of tropical flowers following you wherever you walked, and the hikes up and down the beautiful levadas, it was the food that captivated us. From the fresh fish we ate each night, most memorably the scabbard that are found only in the water surrounding the island (a terrifying black fish that reminded me of Flotsam and Jetsam in The Little Mermaid, but which, once scrubbed diligently by the hard-working men in the Mercado dos Lavradores in the center of town each day, was a treat to have at the dinner table), to the fresh fruit that awaited us in the Mercado each morning, I would have to argue that the most memorable part of our trip was the discovery of some of the freshest, most delicious food we could have imagined. Not to mention, some of the largest quantities we could have imagined – Madeirans are nothing if not generous, and provide unlimited amounts of vegetables and fried maize, an island specialty, with each meal.





I left Madeira with a belly full of scabbard, annona and the most ripe and delicious passion fruit I’d ever tasted. And to this day, whenever I eat a passion fruit (interestingly enough, they are incredibly easy to find in London, though I am deeply saddened that the same can’t be said for my beloved annonas), I’m reminded of all the free samples I inhaled in the Mercado and, most especially, the banana-flavoured variety that FDW cut open for us all on the beach after a long afternoon of trekking.  I’m afraid they’ll never taste as sweet as they did on those unforgettable days in Madeira, but I believe they’re worth it for the memories alone.


Passion Fruit Melting Moments
(From The Guardian Weekend, 5 July 2008)

These passion fruit cookies are deliciously light and summery and were serendipitously found in The Guardian Weekend magazine shortly after my return from Madeira, when my longing for fresh passion fruit was at its peak.

Passion Fruit Melting Moments

3 large passion fruit
200g unsalted butter, softened
250g icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
250g plain flour
75g cornflour or custard powder
50ml double cream

Cut two of the passion fruit in half and scrape out all the pulp. Pour the pulp into a bowl, seeds and all. Beat together the passion fruit, butter, 100g of the icing sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy, add the flours and work everything to a soft, smooth dough.

Preheat the oven to very low – 150C (130C fan-assisted)/300F/ gas mark 2. Line a tray with non-stick baking paper. Take spoonfuls of the dough and mould them into balls the size of a quail’s egg, then place on the tray spaced 2-3cm apart. Lightly flour each top, press the balls gently with the back of a fork and bake for 30-40 minutes, until crisp and lightly coloured.

Beat the remaining 150g icing sugar with the cream and the pulp from the third passion fruit. Sandwich the biscuits together when cold.


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