Saturday, August 22, 2009

size matters

Call it a Napoleon complex or maybe just an excuse to eat a really large cookie, but super-size cookies seem to be a 21st century rage, and I am all for it! Setting aside the "wow" factor on these six-inch behemoths, there is plenty of justification for sitting down with a large glass of milk and savoring one.

Made from nothing more than flour, eggs, sugar, leavening agents, salt and chocolate, the cookie seems idiot-proof. After all, it's simple enough that an eighth-grader can make it, right?

Not necessarily.

If it was just a matter of a recipe than there would be many a baker who would be out of business. It's what goes into the making of the cookie that makes the difference. Like the omelet, which many believe to be the true test of a chef, the humble chocolate chip cookie is the baker's crucible.

Besides the ingredients that go into the cookie, one common thread among the top baker's is that they let the dough rest in the refrigerator. What they are doing is ingenious. They are allowing the dough and other ingredients to fully soak up the liquid-in this case the eggs-in order to get a drier and firmer dough, which bakes to a better consistency. A long hydration time is important because the eggs, unlike say, water are gelatinous and slow moving. The result is that the cookies brown more evenly and the flavor deepens with more bass notes of caramel and hints of toffee.

The second insight has to do with the size. The larger size allows for three distinct textures; the crunchy outside, the soft gooey center and the magical space in between where the two textures and all the flavors mix.

Of course what would a chocolate chip cookie be without the wallop of good chocolate? My chocolate of choice is Valrhona Equatorial 55%. These "Les Fèves" or discs are flat and melt superbly. By using this chocolate you achieve something that melts beautifully. Break apart one of these cookies and a curious thing happens, inside aren't chunks of chocolate, but rather a thin dark stratum, the result of which is layers of chocolate and cookie in every bite.

Although it doesn't seem possible to take this Cookie to the next level, leave it to Dorie Greenspan the author of "Paris Sweets" to do so. She suggests that salt, specifically Fleur de sel (sea salt) in the dough and also sprinkled on top adds a dimension that can lift even a common cookie to glory.

I agree.

The recipe below is an adaptation of a Jacques Torres recipe. I think it is a hands down winner.

Do you doubt it? Well, there's only one way to find out.



Chocolate Chip Cookies
2 cups minus 2 Tbsp. (8 1/2 ounces) cake flour
1 2/3 cups (8 1/2 ounces) bread flour
1 1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. Fleur de sel or kosher salt, plus more for sprinkling on top
2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) light brown sugar
1 cup plus 2 Tbsp. (8 ounces) granulated sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 tsp. vanilla extract
12 ounces Valrhona fèves, oval shaped chocolate pieces (found at Whole Foods)
Sift flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Set aside.
Using a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars together until very light, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Reduce speed to low, add dry ingredients and mix until just combined, 5 to 10 seconds. Drop chocolate pieces in and incorporate them without breaking them. Press plastic wrap against dough and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours. Dough may be used in batches, and can be refrigerated for up to 72 hours.
When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350°. Line a baking sheet with parchment or a nonstick baking mat. Set aside.
Scoop 6- 3 1/2 ounces mounds of dough (the size of generous golf balls) onto baking sheet, making sure to turn horizontally any chocolate pieces that are poking up; it will make for a more attractive cookie. Sprinkle lightly with the Fleur de sel and bake until golden brown but still soft, 10 to 20 minutes. Transfer sheet to a wire rack for 10 minutes, then slip cookies onto another rack to cool a bit more. Repeat with remaining dough, or reserve dough, refrigerated, for baking remaining batches the next day. Eat warm, with a big napkin.

Monday, August 17, 2009


There are some words I love to say, and look for opportunities to squeeze in whenever I can. One of which is...courgette [Koor-zhet]. Basically it is a zucchini, but how fun instead to say courgette adding a little French accent (even though I don't speak French, I pretend when I get the chance). But who cares, I love the way it sounds.

Technically, for sake of this post we are only using the blossoms of the zucchini (courgette) and not the courgette itself.

A few days ago I was part of a conversation in which courgette (zucchini) blossoms came up in the discussion (surprisingly I did not bring them up, but yes did participate). One person asked "What do they taste like?" Another chimed in "Why on earth would you want to eat those?" Still another, "Those are way too much work".

Well, to answer the question about what they taste like I guess you could say that they're mild and squashy, with a texture that's soft and delicate when raw or steamed, crisp and toothsome when fried. As good as a fried courgette blossom is, it's even better if you stuff it with some kind of soft white cheese - ricotta, goat or mozzarella. When the blossom, lovingly twisted shut, hits the hot oil, several magical things happen at once. The cheese begins to soften, picking up the flavors of whatever herbs you've added as it warms. The outside of the flower rapidly crisps, like a fine layer of pastry.

No question, courgette blossoms are an ingenious and elegant packaging material - tastier than a wonton wrapper, prettier than parchment, and way less work than phyllo. And they fry up into crumbly golden shells. Also, they're produced in crazy, profligate profusion. So if nothing else, plucking those blossoms during their brief summer window is a highly effective form of zucchini birth control.

As to the comment of too much work...well, I guess the only thing I can say is that anything worthwhile takes a little effort. And frankly these little beauties don't require that much work, just some basic prep.

The recipe below is in my opinion definitely worth trying. It has been adapted from a Wolfgang Puck recipe. The tempura batter is totally his, which I think is brilliant; very light and crispy. The filling I have modified a bit from his original recipe.

I hope you might try these. Even if you choose not to fill them, just fry them up using the tempura batter, and when they are just out of the fryer toss on a little sea salt, they are delicious.



Tempura Fried Squash Blossoms with Tomato Sauce

Tempura Batter:
1/4 cup rice flour
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/2 cup cornstarch
1 Tbsp. salt
1 tsp. cayenne
3 cups soda water

4 oz. mild goat cheese, softened
4 oz. ricotta
5 sprigs thyme, leaves removed and chopped
2 Tbsp. chopped chervil
2 Tbsp. chopped chives
1 Tbsp. chopped tarragon
Freshly ground black pepper
1-2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
16 squash blossoms
Tomato Sauce, recipe follows
Fried Basil Leaves, recipe follows


Tempura Batter:
Sift together all of the dry ingredients. Whisk in the soda water, a little at a time, until the right consistency is achieved. The batter should coat the back of a spoon, but some excess batter should run off the spoon. Allow to rest in the refrigerator at least 1 hour before use.

Combine all of the ingredients and mix well. Shape the mixture into 1 tablespoon balls. Or alternatively put mixture into a pastry bag with a large tip and pipe into blossoms that way. Make sure blossoms are well cleaned, I take out the stamens as well. Open the flowers and insert the cheese mixture in each flower. Gently press the filling into the base of the flower. Cover with the petals and pinch the top to seal. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat a fryer or a deep pot halfway filled with peanut oil to 375°.
Hold the squash blossoms by the stem. Dip each into the tempura batter, making sure to coat completely. Let any excess batter drip off. Place the blossom in the oil and fry until golden brown, about 1 to 2 minutes, turning often to brown evenly. Remove to a paper towel lined plate.

Place some of the Tomato Sauce on the bottom of a plate. Top with squash blossoms and garnish with fried basil leaves.

Tomato Sauce:
3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, plus 2 Tbsp.
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1 Tbsp. chopped garlic
Pinch chili flakes
2 cups peeled, seeded, and diced tomatoes
Salt and Pepper
1 tsp. sugar
4 thyme sprigs, leaves removed and chopped
4 basil leaves, chiffonade

Heat a large saute pan over medium heat. When the pan is hot, add 3 tablespoons of the olive oil and heat. Add onion, garlic, and chili flakes and cook for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Add the sugar and stir to combine. Lower the heat and cook until the tomatoes start to disintegrate and mixture is of sauce consistency, about 15 minutes. Add the thyme, basil, and remaining olive oil and mix well. At this point I sometimes put the sauce in my food processor and give it a few good pulses to puree it for a smoother consistency. If you have any leftover sauce it's great on pasta!

Fried Basil Leaves:
Vegetable oil or peanut oil
8 basil leaves

Heat about 1/2-inch of the oil in a steep-sided saute pan to 350°. Or heat a deep fryer to 350°. Pat the basil leaves dry to remove any surface water. Carefully drop the basil leaves in the hot oil. The oil will spit and splatter as the moisture in the leaves fries. Fry for 10 seconds or just until the leaves start to become translucent. Remove with a slotted spoon to a paper towel lined plate.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Happy Birthday Julia!

Today, August 15th would have been Julia Child's 97th birthday. The contributions that she brought to cooking in America are so vast that they cannot be contained within this post. In fact, with the release of the movie Julie & Julia, and the new found, soaring popularity of her cookbooks, there doesn't seem to be a space large enough to talk about her.

I would like to think that Julia Child would love the resurgence in her cookbooks and in making wonderful meals at home. I know that as soon as I came home from seeing the movie, I grabbed my copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking and found the recipe for her Boeuf Bourgignon, vowing to make it the first chance I get.

So in honor of Julia, I thought it would be appropriate to make a little something special. What better way than to make Madeleine's. That delicious soft French scallop shaped cookie, that according to Marcel Proust in his literary masterpiece Remembrance of Things Past "launched a thousand memories."

Although there are only a few ingredients, it is the execution of this particular recipe that makes it a little more unique than some others I've come across. This recipe requires the whipping of the eggs and sugar until it doubles in volume, is nearly white and when the beater is lifted a thick ribbon is formed. Also, take care when folding the dry ingredients into the egg mixture as to not deflate.

These cookies are light with a delicate crumb. Traditionally they should be served with tea. But as for me, I will enjoy mine with a latte!

Bon Appétit

I have listed out Julia Child's books and DVD's on the Stuff I like on Amazon link. It is under "Everything Julia".


1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/8 tsp. salt
3 large eggs, room temp.
2/3 cup granulated white sugar
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Melt butter and allow to cool while you make the batter.
In a small bowl place the flour, baking powder and salt and whisk until well blended.

In the bowl of your electric mixer, beat the eggs and sugar at medium-high speed until the mixture has tripled in volume and forms a thick ribbon when the beaters are lifted, about 5 minutes. Add the vanilla extract and beat to combine.

Sift a small amount of flour over the egg mixture and, using a large rubber spatula, fold the flour mixture into the beaten eggs to lighten it. Sift the rest of the flour over the egg mixture and fold in being sure not to over mix or the batter will deflate.

Whisk a small amount of the egg mixture into the melted butter, then fold in the cooled melted butter in three additions. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or several hours, until slightly firm.

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375°F. Generously butter two 12-mold Madeleine pans (I like the non-stick type). Dust the molds with flour and shake out excess. Make sure the pans are well greased or the Madeleine's will stick and be hard to remove.

Drop a generous tablespoonful of the batter into the center of each prepared mold, leaving the batter mounded in the center. This will result in the classic "humped" appearance of the Madeleine's.

Bake the Madeleine's for 11-13 minutes, until the edges are golden brown and the centers spring back when lightly touched. Do not over bake these cookies or they will be dry.

Remove the pans from the oven and twist the pan to release the Madeleine's. Transfer cookies, smooth side down to wire racks to cool. The Madeleine's are best served the same day but can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for 2 to 3 days or frozen, well wrapped for up to 1 month.

Note: If you make the miniature Madeleine's, reduce the baking time to about 7-9 minutes.

Yield: 24 3-inch cookies

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

the vow

I love the tang of buttermilk. But unlike my father who can drink it straight from the container, I need to have it as an addition within a recipe. I find myself buying that familiar yellow quart container frequently as I either make biscuits, cakes or dressings. But inevitably I use only part of it and then the rest sits in the fridge, slowly making it's way to the back behind the juice. Until the day comes and I come upon it...smelly and past it's expiration.

I am making a vow. "I promise I will finish using the buttermilk in the container before it goes to curdled smelliness." I will scour through my myriad of cookbooks to find yet another delicious recipe.

Recently, I stumbled upon an old one from Bon Appétit. It has to be the simplest cake ever, because with the exception of beating the egg whites, it is made in the blender, so there is little cleanup. Which I love.

There is a strange baking phenomenon that happens to this cake. Although it is completely blended when it goes into the prepared dish, it ends up having a cake like top and a lemony pudding on the bottom. Served with a little freshly whipped cream and some sweet berries it makes the perfect casual summer dessert.


Lemon Buttermilk Pudding Cake

1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 cup sugar, divided
4 large egg yolks
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1/8 tsp. salt
3 large egg whites

Preheat oven to 350°. Butter 8x8x2 inch glass baking dish. Blend buttermilk, 1/2 cup sugar, egg yolks, lemon juice, flour, butter, and salt in a blender until smooth. Transfer buttermilk mixture to a medium bowl.

Using an electric mixer, beat egg whites until stiff but not dry. Gently fold buttermilk mixture into whites in three additions (batter will be runny).

Pour batter into prepared dish. Place dish in roasting pan. Pour enough hot water into roasting pan to come halfway up sides of dish. Bake until entire top is evenly browned and cake moves very slightly in center but feels slightly springy to touch, about 45 minutes. Remove dish from roasting pan.

Cool cake completely in baking dish on rack. Refrigerate until cold, at least 3 hours and up to 6 hours. Spoon pudding cake out into shallow bowls. Serve with freshly whipped cream and berries.