Tag Archives: baking

Confined Confection

For the past few weeks, it feels as if I’ve been camping out in my own kitchen. To acclimate a four-legged family member to our home, we gated off and puppy-proofed that room. We may come to regret the kitchen location, but it seems to make sense for the baby who needs easy access when heading outdoors on quick notice.

Already named “Denver” before he joined us, this puppy’s routine around the kitchen finds at least one of us playing with him, brushing his chocolate-brown coat, teaching him to sit with miniature milk bones, or bumping into each other while opening the refrigerator to search for treats for the trainers.

Now that Denver’s entertaining himself for longer stretches of time, he runs loose around the corner into the butler’s pantry—a safe puppy play environment with no carpets or butler to be found.

Denver, like our older dog Cammie, loves tiny pieces of raw carrot, which make great little training rewards for warm, furry creatures. A more mature pet now, Cammie trained with carrots starting at 8 weeks old and they remain her favorite puppy perk. It’s impossible to bring an orange bunch into the house without her waiting patiently in hopes that one will fall to the floor.

Though the carrots serve as rewards, tiny dabs of butter work well as diversions. When we were training Cammie, she wanted to nip at everyone, and we learned from a devoted dog lover to curb her mouthing and nipping habit with a slather of chilled butter. Within 48 hours, she received countless praises and stopped the nipping. We’re keeping the butter to a minimum with Denver, and he nips when seeking attention or alerting us to his needs. A little sweet creamy butter even helps prevent the rest of the household from nipping at each other, too.

Minimized gooey butter cake tasteWhen a cake appears around our place, we’re suddenly all on our best behavior. Just as with puppies, where behavioral experts advise to have a toy ready at all times, it could prove beneficial to have a slice of cake ready at all times for people. If there’s a stick or two of quality butter on hand, use them to make this dense cake-based crust that holds a gooey layer of cream cheese, butter and powdered sugar.

If you can call it traditional, original gooey butter cake may be made with basic staples stocked in home kitchens. Quality butter and cake flour are worth the extra effort of rounding up, though any will do to turn out a rich gooey butter cake. In St. Louis, where locals claim to have created the confection, commercial bakeries offer the cake laced with everything from chocolate chips to key lime. The recipe shared here resembles the original.

Gooey Butter Cake

Crust

1 cup sugar

2 cups flour

¼ teaspoon salt

1 ¼ teaspoons baking powder1 stick unsalted butter, melted

2 eggs, beaten

Filling

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 cups powdered sugar

Topping

¼ cup powdered sugar

  1. Sift dry crust ingredients together. Add beaten eggs and melted butter and stir until thoroughly mixed. Press thick, sticky dough into greased 9 x 12 baking pan.
  2. Mix cream cheese with eggs, butter, vanilla and powdered sugar. Beat at medium speed 2 minutes. Pour over unbaked dough.
  3. Bake 35 minutes at 350 degrees until puffy and golden. Cool completely and dust with remaining powdered sugar.

 

Text and photos by Mary Ann Ebner, Cook On: 1 part chaos, 2 parts calm

First published by The Highlands Current

Chocolate Reserve

By Mary Ann Ebner

It often pays off to stash a little chocolate — and cocoa  — in the cupboard. The confectionery staples embellish everything and cool weather calls for cocoa.

To those who temper chocolate, temperature matters beyond the chocolate thermometer. As autumn arrives, chocolate delicacies hold up longer, while demand from chocolate lovers increases.

When temperatures dipped, Alps Sweet Shop stepped up chocolate production. The family business, which has locations in Beacon and Fishkill, has handcrafted small-batch fine confections for more than 90 years. It was founded by Peter Charkalis and today is run by his granddaughter, Sally Charkalis-Craft, and her husband, Terry Craft, a master chocolatier.

minimized-terry-craft-prepares-salted-caramel-copy

Terry Craft, master chocolatier and co-owner of Alps Sweet Shop, pours 110  pounds of salted caramel onto a cooling tray at their Beacon location. 

Customers streamed in to Beacon’s Main Street location last week to choose from sweets in cases brimming with chocolate-covered caramels, heaven-and-earth truffles, chocolate glace fruits, almond butter crunch and molded chocolates.

Terry Craft and his candy makers work year round but fall production keeps them in the kitchen even longer, stirring kettles bubbling with the likes of salted caramel and dark chocolate. He studied his craft in the U.S., Belgium, France, Canada and England, and although producing confections is labor intensive, he says he finds the work rewarding.

“It’s a feel-good type of business,” Craft said. “People are either coming in here to make themselves happy or to make someone else happy.”

The recipes haven’t changed since Peter Charkalis’s day, but the production methods have evolved from the days when every morsel was handmade. Sally’s mother, Mary Charkalis, recalled a turning point in 1968 when the shop bought its first piece of machinery, an enrober. Sally’s grandfather was not happy about the purchase, so her father waited until he was on vacation in Greece to have it delivered. (He eventually came around to appreciate its benefits.)

An enrober — which moves confections down a conveyor belt, along a cold plate to set the bottom and then through a curtain of chocolate for coating — still stands ready in the Beacon shop. Alps has since further modernized its methods by purchasing an automated candy wrapper and computerized molding equipment.

Like any connoisseur in matters of taste, Craft knows cocoa (or cacao, as it is more commonly known where it’s grown). He prefers a Criollo cocoa bean from Ecuador. The common Forastero bean is a close second but he says it doesn’t have the pronounced flavor. As a third option there’s the Trinitario, a hybrid of the Criollo and the Forastero.

“The best of the best [chocolatiers] can tell you while eating them not only what part of the world a bean is from but the region or plantation where they’re grown,” Craft said. “This particular plantation has a patented fermentation process and right now I have exclusive U.S. rights. These Ecuadorian Criollo beans are right off the plantation.” He cracked open a bean, removed the nib and gently crushed it.

“The nib is where the excitement starts,” he explained. “The nib is pressed and the cocoa butter is extracted and what’s left is called the chocolate liquor,” the paste that serves as the essential ingredient for chocolate. Craft sells the Ecuadorian product to restaurants and pastry chefs as well as a microbrewer. He also coats whole beans in organic chocolate and recently filled an order for 25,000.

“You can taste the earthiness, a savory touch, fruitiness and the soil of the region,” he said. “And the cocoa bean is off the charts with its flavonoids and high in vitamins and minerals.”

Savor a piece of gourmet chocolate or make the cake recipe here that calls for cocoa powder and bits of chocolate. Some chip chocolates have a high melting point, so a better choice is a premium chocolate like the break-up bars that Alps produces in milk, dark and organic white chocolate.minimized-chocolate-kahlua-cake-two

Fragrant cocoa powder, Kahlua and rich chocolate enhance this Bundt cake. 

Home cooks should be able to find small quantities of good cocoa at local markets. Natural unsweetened cocoa, non-alkalized, will be darker while alkalized will soften bitterness. Some cocoas may also affect rise and texture of a cake. This chocolate cake always pleases, thanks in part to flavorful chocolate, powerful cocoa and a dose of Kahlua.

Chocolate Kahlua Cake

1 ¼ cups sugar
1 ¾ cups flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder
4 eggs, beaten
16 ounces sour cream
¾ cups canola oil
⅓ cup Kahlua
6 ounces chocolate, broken into small pieces

Glaze

2 tablespoons cocoa powder
3 cups powdered sugar
1 ½ cups Kahlua

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter Bundt pan and dust with cocoa. Mix flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking soda and salt. Add eggs, sour cream, oil and Kahlua. Stir thoroughly and fold in chocolate pieces. Pour batter into pan and bake 1 hour.

Whisk glaze ingredients and set aside.

Allow cake to cool, then invert. Pour glaze over cake and set 1 hour. Refrigerate if serving next day. Serve with fresh mint leaves.

Photos by M.A. Ebner, first published by The Highlands Current

Break out this tomato pie a la vodka

If red-ripe tomatoes and a humble pie recipe succeed in their temptation, be prepared to reach for bottles of the good stuff, a fine bottle of extra virgin olive oil and a reputable bottle of vodka.

A few key ingredients ...

A few key ingredients …

You’ll want both of a decent quality to make tomato pie a la vodka.

A Southern-ish tomato pie sampled on an evening cruise up and down the Hudson and a not-so-light (but dripping with flavor) penne a la vodka side dish shared at a summer reunion inspired this hybrid conception. The pie served on the boat ride was made by a Southern gentleman who knows his way around the kitchen. When he shared the origins of his tomato pie discovery, he gave a good deal of credit to his father-in-law who had introduced him to the dish. What he discovered along the way when doing a little Google research of his own was that the family recipe looked remarkably similar to a variation by the celebrity Southerner Paula Deen. With his kitchen and relationship wisdom, he elected not to take the findings back to the family — his wife’s or Deen’s.

To preserve the traditional tomato pie for the Southern cooks who know how to put the right amount of flake in a recipe, an adaptation of my own credits all who’ve created a variation of some sort, whether with mayonnaise, a mild Gouda or creamed butter. Anyone can layer tomatoes and smother them with an assortment of cheeses and herbs, which makes a hybrid pie a good choice for putting the best of summer’s tomatoes to use.

A serving of creamy vodka sauce adds an extra-heavy layer of calories to anything it sits on, and that’s probably why it tastes great over everything from piecrust to pasta. To experiment with my own vodka sauce, I couldn’t find a drop of basic vodka on hand, as in a bargain brand. The limited release Ultra Luxury Stoli vodka (not readily available for sale in the U.S.) — elegantly bottled and recently hand carried by a friend returning from Latvia — was off limits. The pie prep called for a shopping trip. Without help from Russia or even Poland, the recipe needed something all-American. But before I could even make it in the house with a full bottle of Tito’s Handmade Vodka, produced in Austin, Texas, one tap of the Tito’s bottle resulted in a shattering crash of glass and spirits all over the stairway. For the record, no sampling of the distilled product had yet occurred. It’s certain that the scene actually looked pretty funny, then it didn’t — when my hand (still gripping the neck of a broken glass bottle) started bleeding … in three places. My lack of coordination often presents itself at inopportune times.

With a replacement bottle of vodka firmly in hand (while cautiously keeping my balance), I eventually set out to experiment with the sauce. I did end up substituting the splashed-away Tito’s Vodka with an even choicer option (Grey Goose) and didn’t risk touching the Stoli reserve bottle. My first batch needed to be cooled down for the mix of preferences in the family, so I eliminated hot red pepper flakes and dipped in to a supply of roasted Spanish paprika, which added the ideal blend of mildly smooth and smoky flavor to the sauce.

Jet Stars on the vine

Jet Stars on the vine

From my modest garden, Jet Star tomatoes produced the best-tasting crop at home this year. They matured earlier than expected but were able to vine-ripen before the squirrels and woodchucks moved in covertly to harvest them. The meaty fruit of the Jet Stars holds up firmly when sliced for a pie. If you’re buying tomatoes to slice for a similar pie, search for a large plump variety. A selection of enormous juicy tomatoes that I picked up in the Catskills worked well for firm slices and one hefty tomato filled a pie dish.

Without the expense of an entire bottle of distilled beverage, tomato pie a la vodka makes an affordable and simple meal. The pie combines ripened garden treasures with a sweet and tangy cream sauce that brings on even more tomato flavor. Served sliced on a plate, layered on a pizza or tucked into a flaky pie crust, there’s no better time to appreciate tomatoes.

By Mary Ann Ebner

First published: Cook On: 1 part chaos, 2 parts calm

The Paper/Philipstown.info

Wedge of tomato pie a la vodka

Wedge of tomato pie a la vodka

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tomato Pie a La Vodka

Yield: 8 servings

For a single layer crust

1 1/2 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup lard or shortening

3 tablespoons icy cold water

Mix dry ingredients and gradually cut in lard with two table knives. Add water by the tablespoon to mold together, handling as little as possible. Work dough into a ball and roll thinly on lightly floured surface with rolling pin. Carefully roll your dough back onto rolling pin and lay dough over pie pan or deep dish. Bake crust for 15 minutes at 350 degrees. Remove from oven and set aside.

For the vodka sauce and filling

1 large or 2 medium tomatoes, sliced

2 medium tomatoes, diced

2 cloves garlic, diced

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

¼ teaspoon sea salt

¼ teaspoon smoked paprika

¼ cup vodka

½ cup heavy cream

2 tablespoons flat parsley, chopped

2 cups shredded Parmesan cheese

  1. In heavy pan, sauté garlic in extra virgin olive oil over medium heat. Add diced tomatoes, sea salt and smoked paprika. Mix in vodka and allow mixture to cook for 5 to 10 minutes while continuing to stir. Stir in heavy cream, lower heat and cook while stirring an additional 5 minutes.
  2. Layer tomato slices into half-baked piecrust. Pour sauce over tomatoes. Add layer of chopped parsley and top with shredded Parmesan cheese.
  3. Bake 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Cool and serve.

Fresh and Floral

With a hint of its natural aroma, lavender brings a fragrant goodness to foods and drinks. The dreamy ingredient in many varieties shows off a purplish flower with greenish-gray foliage and, in even the smallest quantities, stretches a long way in the kitchen. The versatile plant adds a unique flavor to everything from hot herbal teas to salad vinaigrettes and waffles.

Culinary lavender

Culinary lavender

Though baked goods flavored with lavender have long accompanied my morning cup of coffee, I hadn’t seriously considered the herb’s refreshing qualities as a cold beverage enhancer. But basic lemonade makes the case. While I was away in Colorado this summer, I sampled a splashy lunch-time variation with friends. The serving of lemonade dressed up with lavender, lavandula angustifolia, quenched a table full of tired hikers with its soothing properties. The herb’s distinction gave the drink a little edge without overwhelming the lemony base.

Discovering a source close to home means there’s more lavender to be shared in the warm weeks ahead. Ellen Duffy-Taylor, owner of North Winds Lavender Farm in Pawling, New York, carries the scent of lavender with her from farm to market. During the outdoor market season, she offers her lavender products — craft and culinary — every other weekend at the Cold Spring Farmers’ Market (her upcoming market participation dates include Aug. 8 and Aug 22). Local consumers are turning to her culinary lavender not only for cooking and baking but to mix up flowery cocktails from martinis to cosmos.

“People are actually using my lavender to make lavender lemonade and a lot of bartenders are using the syrup for cocktails,” Duffy-Taylor said. “Culinary lavender is very popular. We have one whole culinary field producing lavender that is edible and it’s naturally grown. We’re not certified organic, but we don’t use pesticides or herbicides.”

In addition to a selection of craft lavender and aromatherapy products, North Winds Lavender Farm sells its lavender syrup, lavender shortbread cookies, culinary lavender buds and jellies at the Cold Spring Farmers’ Market. The rich jellies pair well with cheese and transform toast into a breakfast feast while the syrup complements pan-seared meats, fish and steamed vegetables. The culinary buds include a mix of English and French lavender.

“We sell (culinary lavender) by the cup, half cup or quarter cup,” Duffy-Taylor said. “Selling by the pound at the market is just crazy. For people who are cooking, a cup is usually adequate.”

Lavender lemon cookies

Lavender lemon cookies

My favorite lavender lemon cookie recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of crushed buds and the measurement adds plenty of presence — introducing a subtle fragrance before the first bite. The lemon and lavender work together and the end result is a rich but-not-too-sweet confection. High-grade culinary lavender is traditionally strong, and too much in any recipe, whether in sauces or baked goods, may overpower food with an overly perfumed accent. Using the fragrant flowers sparingly saves a cook from having to start over and will, in the end, reduce costs. Considering that little is needed in any creation, the harvested lavender flowers are affordable. One cup is priced by North Winds Lavender Farm at $12 and is sold in several increments. For any savory or sweet dish, use lavender moderately to experiment with the herb.

Duffy-Taylor has been farming for 18 years and 2015 marks her 10th year in the lavender business. She’s been making the same lavender shortbread cookie recipe with all natural ingredients for years, and the fragrant baked goods will soon be available beyond the farmers’ market.

“I’m opening a store in September,” she said, “on Charles Colman Boulevard (in Pawling) right on the main drag. It will include everything we sell at the farmers’ market.”

To make something softly scented — out of your ordinary repertoire — pick up a little lavender. The lavender lemon cookie recipe shared here produces a delicate floral flavor. If you haven’t used lavender, incorporate a pinch in a familiar recipe. If you like the result, move on to a slightly more generous amount to adjust the taste for your preference. For further adventure, try lavender syrup (North Winds offers syrup in 8-ounce bottles for $7) mixed up with your favorite gin or infuse vinegar with lavender stalks and flower heads.

By Mary Ann Ebner, Cook On: 1 part chaos, 2 parts calm

First published by The Paper/Philipstown dot info

Lavender Lemon Cookies

Makes 3 dozen cookies

1 stick softened butter, unsalted

1 cup sugar

1 tablespoon lemon zest

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 large egg

1 tablespoon crushed lavender buds

1 ½ cups flour

½ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ cup course or decorative sugar

  1. Grind lavender buds with a mortar and pestle. Set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, cream together butter, sugar, lemon zest and vanilla extract. Mix in egg. Add ground lavender and mix until smooth.
  3. Combine flour, baking soda and salt. Fold into butter mixture. Refrigerate dough for 30 minutes.
  4. Drop dough by the spoonful onto ungreased baking sheet. Flatten dough balls lightly with the bottom of a small glass. Sprinkle with course or decorative sugar.
  5. Bake 8 to 10 minutes at 350 degrees until cookie edges are slightly golden.

Bread Winner

Garden bread

Garden bread

When it comes to bread, not all of us can resist home-baked varieties, the puffy pillowy kind or the crusty-on-the-outside and soft-on-the-inside loaves baked to eat as soon as they cool. Check out this easy-to-bake garden bread infused with herbs.

 

 

 

 

Why we crave salted caramel brownies

The Hudson Valley’s Kristin Nelson creates handmade salted caramel sauce that will make anyone’s brownies irresistible. Make salted caramel brownies and try to resist.

Salted Caramel Brownie

Salted Caramel Brownie

Cookie tips for the marathon baker

We’re warming up the oven for some marathon cookie baking this week, and if you’re up to baking, check out this gift of baking tips from Jane Manaster . . .  two traditional tips to try when mixing cookies by hand.

1. When you are mixing cookies, or any other recipe in a large bowl that may splash, set the bowl in the sink. It’s a far better height than the worktop for getting a good grip on the spoon.

2. This is an old Peg Bracken favorite. Any cookie that you think you need to roll out and cut, save the trouble. Chill the mix in the refrigerator for an hour. Grease the cookie tray or use parchment paper and roll the dough into one inch balls. The size is your choice, not important to the procedure.

Butter the bottom of a small glass and have some white sugar in a bowl nearby. For each cookie, (not two or three!) dip the buttered glass in the sugar and press to the thickness you want. You don’t have to re-butter. It works with any kind of cookie.

Happy cookie baking!