Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Tahini Lime Cookies

I gotta say, I'm a huge sucker for unconventional flavor combinations. The best dessert I've ever had combined chocolate with thai basil* and was an absolute revelation. Tomato + basil? Simple. Refined. Chocolate + basil? Crazy. Or at least it was to my inexperienced palate.Crazy and delicious.

Imagine my delight when I discovered this recipe in my vegan cookie book. While not quite as exotic as chocolate-basil terrines, using tahini for cookies wasn't something I had seen before. Tahini (sesame paste) is an ingredient most of us have only encountered in hummus, another one of my favorite foods. I found my can at Whole Foods, but I'm sure a Middle Eastern market would be another good bet. Keep refrigerated and you'll be able to make batch after batch of these little guys. And trust me, you'll want to. I will neither confirm nor deny that these cookies disappeared in less than 24 hours in our two person household. Oops.

I modified the original recipe a bit to include some honey, a flavor that pairs well with both lime and sesame. These remind me of grown-up peanut butter cookies -- a little salty, a little sweet, and a little tart.

*Those of you who are in Boston, go to Ten Tables ASAP to experience its splendor.

Tahini Lime Cookies
Adapted from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar, by Isa Chanda Moskowitz & Terry Hope Romero
Makes about 2 dozen cookies

 1/2c non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening
1/2c sugar
1/4c honey
1/2c tahini, at room temperature
2-4 tablespoons of non-dairy milk
Grated zest from 2 limes (~ 1 tablespoon)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3c all-purpose flour
2/3c whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/4c of black sesame seeds (white work as well, but aren't as pretty)

Preheat oven to 325F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a stand mixer or using a hand mixer, beat together shortening, sugar, and honey at medium speed until light and fluffy. Beat in the tahini, 2 tablespoons of non-dairy milk, lime zest, and vanilla.  Then mix in 1/2 the flour, all the baking powder, baking soda, and salt until just incorporated. Mix in remaining flour. Dough should hold together at this point, but if not, add up to 2 additional tablespoons of the remaining non-dairy milk.

Roll dough into walnut-sized balls and flatten slightly. Place on cookie sheets and flatten a bit more. Sprinkle and lightly press sesame seeds into top.

Bake for 10-12 minutes or until edges are very lightly browned. It took my oven less than 10 minutes to finish these little guys, but it had fluctuated between 325F and 400F in the 8 or so minutes the cookies were in there. Gotta love apartment living! As you can see, these cookies turn out beautifully, even with an oven that wants to burn them.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Candied Clementine Peel

Candied Clementine Peel
 Gourmet January 2005

1 pound clementines (4 to 7)
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups regular granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups water
Vegetable oil for greasing rack
1 cup superfine granulated sugar

Halve clementines crosswise and juice them with a citrus juicer, reserving juice for another use. Discard any membranes still attached to peel, then cut each half into eighths.

Bring peel to a boil in a 3-quart saucepan three-fourths full of cold water with 1/2 teaspoon salt and boil, uncovered, 10 minutes, then drain and rinse peel. Repeat procedure with more water and salt, draining and rinsing peel again.

Bring regular sugar and 1 1/2 cups water to a boil in a 2- to 3-quart heavy saucepan, stirring until sugar is dissolved, then reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes. Add peel and gently simmer, uncovered, until tender and translucent and syrup is thickened, about 1 hour.

Transfer candied peel with a slotted spoon to a lightly oiled rack set in a shallow baking pan, spreading it out so pieces don't touch, and let drain 30 minutes.

Put superfine sugar in a small bowl and toss peel, a few pieces at a time, in sugar to coat, then transfer with a dry slotted spoon to a sheet of wax paper to dry slightly, about 1 hour.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Daring Baker's Challenge: Orange-Vanilla Bean Nanaimo Tart

This was my very first Daring Baker's challenge and I had a lot of fun with it.  Not being content to use the standard recipe, I decided to add a citrusy twist to the challenge, adding some orange flavor to the mix. Chocolate + Orange = fantastic.

The January 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Lauren of Celiac Teen. Lauren chose Gluten-Free Graham Wafers and Nanaimo Bars as the challenge for the month. The sources she based her recipe on are 101 Cookbooks and

For Graham Wafers
2 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour
1 cup (200 g) (7.1 ounces) Dark Brown Sugar, Lightly packed
1 teaspoon (5 mL) Baking soda
3/4 teaspoon (4 mL ) Kosher Salt
7 tablespoons (100 g) (3 ½ ounces) Unsalted Butter (Cut into 1-inch cubes and frozen)
1/3 cup (80 mL) Honey, Mild-flavoured such as clover.
5 tablespoons (75 mL) Whole Milk
2 tablespoons (30 mL) Pure Vanilla Extract

1. In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flours, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt. Pulse on low to incorporate. Add the butter and pulse on and off, until the mixture is the consistency of a coarse meal.
2. In a small bowl or liquid measuring cup, whisk together the honey, milk and vanilla. Add to the flour mixture until the dough barely comes together. It will be very soft and sticky.
3. Turn the dough onto a surface well-floured with sweet flour and pat the dough into a rectangle about 1 inch thick. Wrap in plastic and chill until firm, about 2 hours, or overnight.
4. Divide the dough in half and return one half to the refrigerator. Sift an even layer of sweet rice flour onto the work surface and roll the dough into a long rectangle, about 1/8 inch thick. The dough will be quite sticky, so flour as necessary. Cut into 4 by 4 inch squares. Gather the scraps together and set aside. Place wafers on one or two parchment-lined baking sheets. Chill until firm, about 30 to 45 minutes. Repeat with the second batch of dough.
5. Adjust the rack to the upper and lower positions and preheat oven to 350F (180C).
6. Gather the scraps together into a ball, chill until firm, and reroll. Dust the surface with more flour and roll out the dough to get a couple more wafers.
7. Prick the wafers with toothpick or fork, not all the way through, in two or more rows.
8. Bake for 12 minutes, until browned and slightly firm to the touch, rotating sheets halfway through to ensure even baking. Keep an eye on these...I burned my first batch because I left them in just a minute or two too long.
9. When cooled completely, place enough wafers in food processor to make 1 ¼ cups of crumbs.

Nanaimo Bars
1/2 cup (115 g) (4 ounces) Unsalted Butter
1/4 cup (50 g) (1.8 ounces) Granulated Sugar
1 TBSP Honey
5 tablespoons (75 mL) Unsweetened Cocoa
1 Large Egg, Beaten
1 1/4 cups (300 mL) (160 g) (5.6 ounces) Graham Wafer Crumbs (See previous recipe)
Zest of 1 Orange
1/2 cup (55 g) (1.9 ounces) Almonds (Any type, Finely chopped)
1 cup (130 g) (4.5 ounces) Rolled Oats (Pulsed until fine in food processor)

For Nanaimo Bars — Middle Layer
1/2 cup (115 g) (4 ounces) Unsalted Butter
2 tablespoons and 2 teaspoons (40 mL) Heavy Cream
2 tablespoons (30 mL) Cornstach
2 vanilla beans, scraped
Zest of 1 Orange
2 cups (254 g) (8.9 ounces) Powdered Sugar
Grand Marnier to taste (optional

For Nanaimo Bars — Top Layer
4 ounces (115 g) Dark chocolate
2 tablespoons (28 g) (1 ounce) Unsalted Butter
Sprinkling of sliced almond (optional)

1. For bottom Layer: Melt unsalted butter, sugar, honey and cocoa in top of a double boiler. Add egg and stir to cook and thicken. Remove from heat. Stir in crumbs, nuts, zest and oats. Press firmly into an ungreased 8 by 8 inch pan.
2. For Middle Layer: Cream butter, cream, cornstarch, vanilla pulp, orange zest, and icing sugar together well. Beat until light in colour. Add Grand Marnier to taste. Spread over bottom layer.
3. For Top Layer: Melt chocolate and unsalted butter over low heat. Cool. Once cool, pour over middle layer and chill.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Vegan Chocolate Chip Chai Spice Shortbread


Anyone who says vegan baked goods can't be delicious is just plain wrong. Sure, you might not be able to pull off a chocolate souffle using flax seeds and bananas, but if you embrace the sorts of recipes that vegan ingredients can easily be adapted to, you'll find yourself with delicious, moral pastries.

While I'm not vegan, I am vegetarian, so I can appreciate the difficulties in mimicking some of the classics using finicky substitutes. Luckily, shortbread does not use eggs, which means you can bake some fantastic vegan shortbread without sacrificing its typical properties.

This shortbread is a fantastic cookie to eat with afternoon tea (duh). I might have even nibbled on some for breakfast this morning. 

Chocolate Chip Chai Spice Shortbread
Adapted from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar, by Isa Chanda Moskowitz & Terry Hope Romero
Makes about 2 1/2 dozen cookies

1/2c nonhydrogenated vegetable shortening
1/2c butter substitute (I love Earth Balance)
3/4c powdered sugar, sifted
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1c all purpose flour
1c whole wheat pastry flour
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
Generous pinch each of ground coriander and ground black pepper
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 bag of chai tea leaves (approximately 1tsp)
4 oz of dark chocolate, finely chopped or healing 1/2c of chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Using electric beaters in a large bowl, cream together the shortening and butter substitute until smooth. Fold in the powdered sugar and vanilla, then cream again until smooth and creamy.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flours, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, coriander, pepper, baking soda, salt, and tea. Fold half of this mixture into the creamed shortening mixture to moisten all ingredients. Fold in the remaining flour until a dense dough forms. Knead in chocolate pieces.

Divide the dough and form two logs. Chill for 30 minutes or so to reduce crumbliness issues. With a thin, sharp knife, carefully slice logs into 1/2 inch slices. Transfer slices to making sheets, placing each slide about 2 inches apart. Bake shortbread for 12 to 14 minutes until slightly puffed yet firm and the edges are turning golder. Allow the cookies to cool for 5 minutes on the baking sheets before using a spatula to transfer them to cooling racks.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Buche de Noel (Yule Log)

Ah, the yule log. A fabulously overwrought, complicated, holiday dessert that requires no fewer than 4 separate components and lots of attention. In other words, something right up my alley. It's a lot of fun to make if you have 4-8 hours to kill. My husband had this for breakfast yesterday, so I'm pretty sure it also tastes as good as it looks.

The yule log has its origins in Germanic paganism, which makes it a fabulously secular dessert. It also freezes well, so you can make this ahead of time and bring it to your office party to impress everyone.

Joconde (Biscuit)
Recipe courtesy of the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts
1 recipe makes 3 half-sheet pans of cake

7 oz. almond flour
7 oz. powdered sugar
4 oz. sifted flour
6 eggs
8 egg whites
6 oz. sugar
2 oz. butter (melted then cooled)

Preheat oven to 400.

*This recipe is easiest if you have two mixers. You are making an air-filled cake batter and then combining it with a French meringue, both of which are much, much easier with the aid of an electric mixer. You can mix one or the other ahead of time, but they'll start to deflate and the final product will suffer.the stan

If you're like most of the world, you don't have two stand mixers hanging around, but there is hope! Neither the almond flour batter nor the meringue can be over-mixed, so you can keep one going on the stand mixed while you do the other using a hand mixer.

Combine the almond flour, powdered sugar, and the flour in the bowl of an electric mixer and mix on medium speed using the paddle attachment. One by one, add the eggs. Once the eggs are incorporated, continue to mix on medium speed for about 15 minutes to incorporate air. Add the melted butter until fully incorporated. 

In a separate bowl, using the whisk attachment, add the egg whites and whip at high speed until soft peaks form. When the egg whites have reached soft peak turn the machine down to medium and add the sugar. Continue to mix on medium speed for about 3 minutes (or indefinitely...the meringue cannot be overbeaten).

Fold the egg white mixture into the almond flour batter until blended. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and spread batter over all the parchment paper until it is about 1/8 in. thick. It's important to make sure the batter is even, so use a spatula to even things out. Bake for 4-5 minutes.

Simple Syrup
1/2c water
1/2c granulated white sugar
Flavoring of choice (liquors, extracts, etc.)

Bring water to a boil and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Cool syrup. Mix in flavoring to taste.

You want to flip your cake to soak it with simple syrup. Put an additional sheet of parchment paper on the top and just flip. It sounds dangerous, but this cake is surprisingly pliable. Brush the Joconde with simple syrup to soak the cake and make it less likely to crack when rolling. You want it to be moist to the touch, but not so wet that it will disintigrate when you handle it.

Next, coat the cake with your filling of choice. Pastry cream, jelly, whatever strikes your fancy.  You can even sprinkle it with roasted nuts for some delicious texture. You're aiming for a layer about the same thickness as your cake. Then comes the fun part...rolling! Your cake should be quite pliable, so as long as you're gentle , rolling shouldn't be too difficult. Two sets of hands are better than one, so if you can get help, even better

It's best to cut/decorate when the log is cold, so chill the roll in the fridge for 1/2 hour to an hour. If you're making multiple logs, cut the roll on the diagonal. 1 sheet pan should give you 3 logs. Then you can decorate with chocolate buttercream. A basketweave tip/fork creates some fun looking bark texture.

Meringue mushrooms are traditional on the yule log, but you can have a lot of fun with decorations here. Sprinkle on some powdered sugar and you have some fun snow!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

La Bête Noire or the "Black Beast"

How awesome are the French? Not only are they great at making insanely decadent, completely excessive desserts, they give them The. Best. Names. Ever. The cake pictured above? It's called "The Black Beast." Dark, Satan-evoking cakes? Yes, please!

The "Black Beast" made an appearance at my family's Thanksgiving dinner, where it outshined the apple pie, brownies, and all other manner of sweet things. This is a flourless chocolate cake; a special occasion dessert that will make you look like a culinary badass, despite the relative ease of preparation. It does result in a lot of dishes though, something to which my wonderful husband can attest. Oops.

This cake is intense--a glass-of-water-between-every-bite intense. You eat this cake and it's like you've been slapped in the face by a good way.

A recipe like this is all about the chocolate. When you're using a pound and a half, it better be some of the good stuff. I used 60% Callebaut from Whole Foods for a mere $4.99/lb; affordable, delicious and absolutely necessary for a top-notch final product. I've heard rumors that the Belgian chocolate bars at Trader Joe's are actually just re-stamped Callebaut and are very, very cheap. There's no excuse for Hersheying it up! While I am a super-dark chocolate girl myself, you don't want to go for a cocoa percentage higher than 60-70% or your ganache will get a bit chalky. Trust me, it will still be plenty rich.

While I added Chambord to my batter for a hint of raspberry, feel free to experiment. Espresso, Grand Marnier, and Kirsch are just a few of the things I can think of off the top of my head that would work in this cake. Chocolate is awesome.

La Bête Noire
Adapted from Bon Appétit - September 2006

For the cake:
1 cup water
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons Chambord (black raspberry liquor - optional)

9 tablespoons (1 stick plus 1 tablespoon) unsalted butter, diced
18 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely cut
6 large eggs

For the ganache:
3/4 cup heavy crean
2 teaspoons instant espresso (optional)
8 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely cut
1 tablespoon corn syrup

For cake:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter 10-inch-diameter springform pan. Line bottom of pan with parchment round; butter parchment. Wrap 3 layers of heavy-duty foil around outside of pan, bringing foil to top of rim. Note: this step is very, very important. If your foil is not entirely watertight, you'll find yourself with a soggy cake. I'd recommend some heavy duty, extra wide foil if you can find it. Not that I know this from experience...

Combine 1 cup water, Chambourd, salt, and sugar in small saucepan. Bring to boil over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Simmer 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

Melt butter in large saucepan over low heat. Add chocolate and whisk until smooth. Whisk sugar syrup into chocolate; cool slightly. Add lightly beaten eggs to chocolate mixture and whisk until well blended (pre-beating the eggs makes it less likely that you end up with scrambled eggs in your cake). Pour batter into prepared pan. Place cake pan in large roasting pan. Add enough hot water to roasting pan to come halfway up sides of cake pan.

Bake cake until center no longer moves when pan is gently shaken, about 50 minutes. Remove from water bath; transfer to rack. Cool completely in pan.

For ganache:
Scald cream until bubbly around the edges. Add coffee and stir. Add chocolate and corn syrup and stir over heat for one minute. Remove from heat and whisk until chocolate is melted. Let stand for 15 minutes, stirring (not beating) occasionally. It will thicken slightly.

Run knife around pan sides to loosen cake; release sides. A neat trick for this next step is to put the cake on a cooling rack over a cookie sheet--it saves you a lot of clean up. Pour ganache over cake and smooth sides with spatula (the extra ganache will just fall through the cooling rack onto the waiting cookie sheet).Wait for ganache to cool and decorate as you see fit. This cake looks gorgeous as is, but is wonderful with some freshly whipped cream. I piped some whipped cream, added some fresh raspberries, and coated the sides with finely chopped pistachios for a bit of color.

Note: It's best if you don't refrigerate the completed cake as this would cause the ganache to lose its shine, so make it or at least complete it the same day as serving.