Chocolate Pistachio Sables

I could try to write a long post here:

  • about how my sister-in-law introduced me to the wonder of a versatile cookie that is a sable last Christmas, a tender French sugar cookie that can be endlessly varied and which never wears out its welcome-

Chocolate Pistachio Sables (6 of 6)

  • about how I finally managed to make beautifully circular roll cookies rather than flattened tires (wrap your cookie roll tightly in parchment, cut the inner tube of a paper towel roll, slide your misshapen cylinder inside and roll it to cookie perfection and chill on a flat surface in the freezer, turning a bit in the first half hour or so to make sure it sets)-

Chocolate Pistachio Sables (2 of 6)

  • about how these cookies are beautiful and festive all on their own–studded with glistening chocolate and green pistachios–without need of mixing up seven shades of frosting nor a steady decorative hand-

Chocolate Pistachio Sables (3 of 6)

Chocolate Pistachio Sables (4 of 6)

but we know I’m not so diligent about my posting these days.  I trust you prefer a slightly abbreviated post now to a mid-January missive, so it’s time to get to the point and get you the recipe (from this month’s Bon Appetit).    Absolutely a must make.

Chocolate Pistachio Sables (5 of 6)

Chocolate Pistachio Sables
Recipe Type: cookies
Author: Adapted from [url href=”http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/chocolate-pistachio-sables”%5DBon Appetit[/url]
Ingredients
  • 2½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1¼ cups (2½ sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1¼ cups (lightly packed) light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg white
  • 5 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1 cup unsalted, shelled raw pistachios, coarsely chopped
  • Flaky sea salt (such as Maldon salt).
Instructions
  1. Whisk flour, cocoa powder, kosher salt, and baking soda in a medium bowl.
  2. Using an electric mixer on high speed, beat butter, brown sugar, and vanilla until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Reduce speed to low and gradually add dry ingredients; mix just to combine, then mix in the egg white. Fold in chocolate pieces and pistachios. (While you want these to be roughly chopped, don’t worry if you have a few larger chunks. When you slice the cookies you’ll cut through any too-large pieces of chocolate or nut).
  3. Divide dough into 4 pieces. Roll each piece into an 8”-long log about 1½” in diameter, pushing dough together if it feels crumbly. Wrap tightly in parchment paper and chill until firm, at least 4 hours. (The colder your dough, the easier it will be to slice.) As I noted above, roll inside a paper towel tube to get a uniform shape, and chill immediately.
  4. Place racks in lower and upper thirds of oven; preheat to 350°F. Working with 1 log of dough at a time and using a serrated knife and a sawing motion, cut logs into ¼”-thick rounds and transfer to 2 parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing ½” apart. Be extra careful to keep up the sawing motion near the base of the cookie log as it otherwise might tend to break off with an uneven rough finish.
  5. Sprinkle cookies with sea salt and bake, rotating baking sheets halfway through, until set around edges and centers look dry, 10–12 minutes. Transfer to wire racks and let cool.
Notes
Per Bon Appetit, the dough can be made 1 month ahead; freeze instead of chilling. Slice frozen logs into rounds just before baking.

 

“Exceptionally Good” Macaroons

My love of coconut is a new thing.  We didn’t eat much of it when we were growing up, so I didn’t bake with it much.  With so many other tasty options in bakeries, I would go for the good ol’ standby rather than try something new.  My attitude seems to be more “why mess with a good thing?” than my sisters.  I remember Sara made coconut cupcakes for little E’s first birthday and sent home the extra flaked coconut home with Marie who was visiting.  I thought, “huh.  Coconut?”  Slightly intrigued and yet since I was on the other coast during that birthday I had still not had the occasion to enjoy.

Last year, Paul sent me this picture:

A picture is worth a thousand words, right?

It was a chocolate dipped coconut macaroon.  He bought this delicacy at the Mt. Bachelor ski lodge near Bend, Oregon.  It’s about a 3 1/2 hour drive from where I live now in Portland, so the treat did not make it to me for a sample.  However, he discovered they were ALSO sold at Kettleman’s Bagels, which happened to be in my neighborhood and in my work neighborhood.  These macaroons were the size of your fist, sweet coconut goodness with just the right amount of chocolate.  Wow.  Love.  Sometimes we’d split the macaroon sometimes we’d each get our own.  Occasionally my boss and I would treat ourselves on a particularly tedious Friday afternoon.  She’s a fan too.

I mention that Kettleman’s HAPPENED to be in the neighborhood.  Past tense.  A few months ago it was bought out by Einstein’s bagels.  Much of the locavore community here in Portland was up in arms with the diminished selection of bagels (a controversy that was dubbed “Bagelgate“).  They took to facebook indeed!  I, however, have mourned the coconut macaroons.  Resigned with the knowledge that the treats were no more, I decided it was time to learn how to make them.

I found this Alice Medrich recipe on Salt and Serenity via my good friend Lis.

Were I to do this again, I’d try with shredded coconut to be more in line with my original favorite, but as one recipient commented, they are “exceptionally good” macaroons.

Exceptionally Good Macaroons

  • 4 large egg whites
  • 3 1/2 cups (5.25 ounces) unsweetened dried flaked (not shredded) coconut, also called coconut chips OR 3 cups (9 ounces) sweetened dried shredded coconut
  • 3/4 cup (5.25 ounces) sugar
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • Slightly rounded 1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or foil Set aside.

2. Combine all of the ingredients in a large heatproof mixing bowl, Set the bowl directly in a wide skillet of barely simmering water and stir the mixture with a silicone spatula, scraping the bottom to prevent burning, until the mixture is very hot to the touch and the egg whites have thickened slightly and turned from translucent to opaque, 5 to 7 minutes. Set the batter aside for 30 minutes to let the coconut absorb more of the goop.

3. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven.

4. Using 2 tablespoons of batter, make attractive heaps 2 inches apart on the lined cookie sheets.

Bake for about 5 minutes, just until the coconut tips begin to color, rotating the pans from top to bottom and from front to back halfway through the baking time to ensure even baking.

5. Lower the temperature to 325°F and bake for 10 to 15 minutes and again rotating the pans from top to bottom and from front to back halfway through the baking time. If the coconut tips are browning too fast, you can lower the heat to 300°F.  I also covered them with a little foil because I don’t prefer them too dark.

6. Set the pans or just the liners on racks to cool. If you plan to add chocolate, press a small piece of your favorite chocolate into the cookies while they are still hot.  I tried semi-sweet chocolate and dark chocolate – whatever suits your fancy!


7. Let cool completely before gently peeling the parchment away from each cookie. The cookies are best on the day they are baked—the exterior is crisp and chewy and the interior soft and moist. Although the crispy edges will soften, the cookies remain delicious stored in an airtight container for 4 days.

America’s Test Kitchen Boston Blogger Cookie Challenge

Recently I’ve found some fun new Boston-based food blogs–and it’s a good thing:  I’m not always the most up on things, so I have to rely on others to get me up to speed more often than not.  And luckily for me, I found out just in time via Megan about America’s Test Kitchen Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie Challenge.  About noon today, to be exact.  Entry (via a blog post describing your experiences making the recipe) due tonight by 11:59 eastern.  Winner gets a trip to the America’s Test Kitchen Studios (they of Cooks Illustrated) to watch a taping of the show!

So:  I win, I get to go to the studio and meet a gaggle of amazing food folks, and I lose, I get to try some amazing chocolate chip cookies?  Not a hard decision.

I wasn’t surprised to see that this recipe had some major departures from your standard toll house recipe–most notably, using brown butter.  (I’ve blogged about using  brown butter before here).   Though it seems like making brown butter adds an extra step, it only seems that way because it’s a little unusual:  in fact it takes less time than waiting for your butter to soften as most recipes require.  (I do always try to cheat and soften in the microwave, which works out for me sometimes, and which sometimes just creates another mess to clean up).  Better here that it’s not even necessary at all.  Also, I’m always happy not to have to haul out a mixer.  Here, you only need a whisk and a spatula.

But back to the brown butter.  I was a bit nervous that I had overdone things burned the butter.  Browning butter caramelizes the milk sugars and imparts a nutty aroma.  Per the recipe, I swirled and cooked my butter until it was a golden brown, but got nervous when I poured the liquid into a bowl–in a deeper vessel, it looked almost burnt.  And was the aroma charred or nutty?  I couldn’t tell.  I tasted it and didn’t note anything off so I continued.  Not helping the looks of things were the foam collecting over the surface and rather dark butter solids gathering at the bottom of the bowl.  Nevertheless, after mixing in the sugar I began to feel heartened–the aroma became that of a decadent caramel.  (And as I love caramel, this could only be a very good thing).

The cookie dough was remarkably glossy and smooth, a deep golden brown that held together well as I portioned it out onto the cookie sheet.  And the result was truly delicious.  Browning the butter really does seem to add something special to the flavor profile, and the cookies are moist and chewy without being overly cakey.  I think this recipe is a keeper. While it’s a bit of a departure from the standard method, it’s easy and produces fabulous results.  If you’d like to try, check it out here!

Hmmm…I think I need another one.

Flour’s Chocolate Cupcakes with Crispy Magic Frosting

I don’t have to tell you I like baking cakes.  (Almost as much as I like eating them).  But as for frosting–if you think back you’ll realize you haven’t seen it around these parts, not, at least when this sister is posting.   Maybe I’m just lazy–by the time I’ve made the cake, I’ve already mentally closed up shop and have enough dirty dishes staring me down, topsy-turvy and dripping in the sink, and am dissuaded.  (I already have payoff in the form of a cake, after all).  Maybe I’m just impatient.  No digging in while I wait for the cake to cool enough to smooth on frosting?  Maybe I’m virtuous–why add more sugar into the mix (doubtful explanation, but thought I’d throw it out there).

Whatever the reason, it’s certainly not a lack of love for frosting.  How could it be?  I’m not above using a knife to surreptitiously get a little bit of frosting that’s left on the plate after serving myself cake.  (Even if the frosting arguably is part of the next piece to be sliced.  If it’s debatable, I’ll take it).  It’s a noble tradition for us, as even our mother admits to having “accidentally” eaten half the icing off of a cake without realizing it.

I may beg off frosting my cakes, but when it came time for little E and baby H’s joint birthday party (yes, they are 7 weeks apart; did I mention I can be lazy?) I knew I couldn’t present a room full of toddlers with icingless cupcakes.  Can you imagine the scandal?

I figured I couldn’t go wrong with Joanne Chang’s recipe (from the Flour Bakery cookbook).  Especially since it’s her take on a “dump cake”; as in, dump all the ingredients into a bowl and stir.  Sounds good. 

Even better, the batter can sit in the fridge for a few days before baking.  So I mixed it together on Friday night, and was able to still pull off fresh-baked cupcakes for the party on Sunday.  The batter goes from very liquid to very firm in the fridge, very easy to scoop into your cupcake tins.  (I did make a few cupcakes Friday night just to “test” things out.  I believe it was my sister-in-law Colleen who pointed out that cupcakes are better to make for parties than cake because you can sample beforehand).

As for the icing, I gritted my teeth and accepted the challenge of making an egg-white based buttercream.  I’d done this in my class at the CSCA, where we boiled sugar in water and then carefully poured a stream of this hot liquid candy to egg whites being beaten in a stand mixer, while being warned:  take care not to let it splatter.  (I burned myself making caramel in high school.  The wounds are healed, the memory is raw).  Scary.  I’ve also seen versions where you beat the eggs by hand over a double boiler until they stiffen.  Sounds like a lot of effort–I tried to beat egg whites once by hand.  It’s not fun.   This recipe’s method was a perfect combination of low danger and reduced effort:  whisk the egg whites and sugar together over simmering water until hot, then pour into your mixer and fire it up.  The egg whites aren’t necessarily hot enough to be pasteurized by the mild heat, so I used store-bought pasteurized whites.  (Even if I were using boiling sugar syrup, I still would use pasteurized eggs for a room full of toddlers, out of caution as I’ve read mixed reports about whether or not this method kills all the nasties. Talk about spoiling the party!  Talk about terrible party favors!)  

Because heat helps meringues to grow higher and loftier, the egg whites started to foam ever so slightly over the heat, also indicating that they were soon ready to be transformed into glossy, glistening clouds. 

As a side note, this is what is technically known as a Swiss meringue:  because of the slight cooking of the sugar and egg whites, the meringue has a lovely sheen and is also far more stable–and less difficult to irreparably mess up–than completely raw meringues, also known as a French meringue.  The sugar syrup method–scarier, but also most resistant to abuse–is known as Italian-style meringue:  see here if you’re curious how they all compare. Who knew meringues changed as they crossed borders?

When your meringue is lovely and lofty and snow-white and magical, add your soft butter and beat it in–at first it’s clumpy but keep beating and it will get nice and smooth again, and take on a soft cream color thanks to the butter.  (Make sure it’s soft.  I heard some unhappy stories in my baking class about too cold butter snapping the delicate tines on a whisk.  Not fun). 

Finally, while one might argue there is never too much frosting, I am compelled to note that I tripled the amount of cupcakes and only doubled the corresponding amount of icing, I was still overwhelmed by extra frosting after decorating all my cupcakes (and sampling).  Just to bear in mind, but maybe you like it that way.  Despite the name, my frosting never got crispy, but it still was pretty magical, in part because I finally got up the guts to make egg white buttercream.  I’m not going to say I’m not going to skip making icing from now on, but as this frosting is so delicious and as the process is not as scary as it initially seemed, I might be easily persuaded.

Flour’s Chocolate Cupcakes with Crispy Magic Frosting (adapted from Flour; available here)

Makes 12, doubles well.

Batter

  • 2 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 1/4c Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 1c sugar
  • 1/2c (one stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/3c water
  • 1/2c milk
  • 1 egg + 1 yolk
  • 1/2t vanilla extract
  • 1c flour
  • 1t baking powder
  • 1/2t baking soda
  • 1/2t salt (kosher if you have it)
Prepare your muffin tin by lining with 12 standard liners. In a heatproof bowl, combine chocolate and cocoa powder.  In a saucepan over medium heat, heat the granulated sugar, butter, and water, stirring occasionally, until the butter melts and the sugar dissolves. Pour the butter mixture over the chocolate and whisk until the mixture is smooth and all the chocolate is melted.  The more evenly and finely you chop the chocolate, the faster you’ll get there.  Let cool slightly (just enough so it’s not still hot) and whisk the milk, egg, extra yolk, and vanilla into the chocolate mixture until combined.
In a bowl, stir the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt until blended. Add the flour mixture to the chocolate mixture and whisk until smooth.  Let the batter sit at room temperature for 1 hour or cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days.
When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350F.  Spoon the batter into the muffin tins.  (I actually got a few more cupcakes than 12).  Bake for 30 minutes or until the tops spring back when pressed lightly with a fingertip. Cool completely on a wire rack.  
Frosting
  • 2/3c granulated sugar
  • 2 pasteurized egg whites
  • 1 1/2c (3 sticks) of room temperature butter, very soft.
  • 1 2/3c confectioner’s sugar
  • 1/4t kosher salt
  • 2T milk
  • 1T vanilla extract
In a heatproof bowl, whisk the sugar and egg whites. Fill a saucepan half full with water and bring to a simmer.  Set the bowl over the water but do not allow the base of the bowl to touch the water.  Whisk for 3 to 5 minutes or until the mixture is hot to the touch. It will thin as the sugar melts, and will also get slightly foamy and lighten as you whisk. 

Pour the mixture into a standing mixture and beat at medium-high speed for 6 minutes or until the mixture becomes thick and white like a meringue and is cool to the touch.  It will be white and glossy.  At medium speed, add the butter a few chunks at a time, beating for 3 to 4 minutes or until it is all incorporated.   Add the remaining ingredients, and beat until smooth and satiny. (If not using immediately, transfer to an airtight container and store at room temperature up to 3 days or up to two weeks in the fridge; allow to soften and then beat in the mixer for a few minutes until smooth.)  You can try this with a hand mixer, but be aware it will take longer.  If using, either add the food coloring and beat it in, or fold it in with a spatula.

Decorate with a pastry bag fitted a star tip or spread with a spatula.  Note that “cupcake decorating kits” that seem to be marketed everywhere these days (especially the “kid friendly” ones) do not work well with this type of icing because it is not pourable into the small mouths of the little plastic squeeze bottles; it’s preferable for this reason to use a pastry bag if you want to pipe on frosting.  

Valentine’s Day Approved Muscovado Chocolate Cake

I’m not going to go into all the reasons chocolate is de rigeur on Valentine’s day.  Chocolate = Love.  And even though there are those who don’t like Valentine’s day, who doesn’t love chocolate? (Though curiously, I have a friend, from Belgium no less, that can’t stand the stuff.  I still puzzle over this). 

So–chocolate is a given.  The question is, how are you going to have it?  The tried and true methods–brownies, cookies, candies–are never going to disappoint, but sometimes a slight variation is in order.  Maybe an exotic ingredient will do the trick?

Enter muscovado.  There’s light brown sugar, there’s dark brown sugar, and there is muscovado sugar.   The molasses flavor that makes brown sugar so delicious is surprisingly intense in muscovado.  It’s probably fair to say it’s like brown sugar in 3D.

My husband’s birthday was this Friday, and he was just coming off of a busy period at work.  And he loves chocolate.  Marija at Palachinka recently made muscovado brownies, and I knew before I even finished reading her post that I needed to make this.

This cake is leavened with whipped egg whites, which is probably unusual stateside where we rely on baking powder to raise our cakes. (I find this to be more of a cake than a brownie, precisely due to the fact that it is leavened.  Isn’t the brownie a happy accident in which someone forgot to add the baking powder?)  I sometimes find that the beaten egg white method of lifting a cake results in a dry product, but here, probably thanks to the moisture of the muscovado (and let’s face it, a lot of butter) it was tender and moist.  The muscovado and dark coffee are like the harmony filling out the chocolate melody–chocolate still takes center stage, but there’s an extra layer of richness and complexity to it.

A few notes, before the recipe:  If you can’t find muscovado you can find it online or you can simply substitute dark brown sugar–it still adds something that plain white sugar does not.  Don’t skip the icing–it’s incredibly easy.  And if you refrigerate this cake, it goes from being light in texture to incredibly fudgy and more brownie-like; my husband likened it to the filling of a chocolate ganache tart. 

Enjoy!

Muscovado Chocolate Cake

Cake

7 oz dark chocolate
1 3/4 sticks butter
2 T strong black coffee
3/4c dark muscovado sugar
4 eggs, yolks and whites separated
1/3c flour
1/4 tsp salt

Melt dark chocolate, butter and coffee in a double boiler (or carefully microwave on medium power, pausing every thirty seconds to stir). When melted, mix in half the muscovado.

Beat egg yolks with the remaining muscovado until pale. Stir in melted chocolate mix. Sift over flour and salt and fold in.

Beat the egg whites stiff and carefully fold in. Line an 8×8 baking pan with parchment paper and pour the batter in. Bake in a preheated oven at 350F for about 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Icing

1/4c muscovado
1 T heavy cream
2 oz dark chocolate
4T butter

Melt muscovado and heavy cream in a double boiler (or microwave as above).  Add chocolate and butter and stir until it’s melted and smooth. Let cool a bit and pour over the baked cake.

Downsized Recipe for Mini-Tarts

I hate throwing food out.  Every week before our trash comes, I go through the fridge figuring out what’s gone bad, and guiltily throw it away. (How much food do most Americans throw away each year?  How many resources were used to grow that food, transport it, package it?  How much money am I wasting?  How many starving children are out there?  etc etc).  I love to stick things in the freezer sure that I’ll get to it later.  (My worst incarnation of this was when we lived in London and I was saving bones for soup stock–my friend Liz referred to our freezer compartment as “the morgue”).  But my good intentions are often no more than that–periodically I have to go through the freezer and toss frosty blocks of things that are, by that point, really old.

Nevertheless, whenever I make pie dough, I always save the scraps.  If I were a more expert roller of pie crust, I’d probably hardly have any trimmings, but I always have some rough-edged, slightly uneven, Pangaea-shaped mass that I’m putting into the pie pan.  I have this hope that I”ll later use the scraps to make a cute little mini-pie or tartlette.  But, I never do, because I’ve never taken the time to figure out the ratios; i.e. how much to reduce the quantity of filling.

Perhaps in a burst of New Years inspiration, I finally did something with the two tartlettes in my freezer.  The dough was six months old.  I know this precisely because it was leftover nut dough from making this (mmmmm).  I decided to keep things simple and make a chocolate ganache filling.  Easy-peasy, (despite the French name) especially since I already had the crust!  I poured my pie weights into the two tart tins, and calculated the volume (two cups, if you are wondering).  I roughly compared this to the volume of filling for a regular-sized pie or tart, and decided that 1/3 a recipe would give me enough for two tarts.  I melted dark chocolate from Santa (or, my father in law) in sweet cream, butter, and sugar, and added a splash of espresso brewed coffee to round out and intensify the chocolate flavor.  I pre-baked the pie crust, poured in the ganache, and allowed it to set until it was soft yet still solid.  And, voila, my husband and I had individual chocolate tarts for our New Year’s Eve meal.  And our New Year’s meal.  Glossy, smooth, rich, elegant–they may be small but they are more than enough for one sitting.  I’m not sure an over-the-top chocolate dessert is the expected conclusion of a post on kitchen thrift, but, then again, why not?  (Don’t mention anything about New Year’s Resolutions to me, on the other hand).

Chocolate Ganache filling (for two 4-inch tartlettes; triple this for a regular-sized tart)

  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (about one bar)
  • 1 1/3 tablespoons unsalted butter (1/2 stick), cut into small pieces
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • a pinch of salt
  • Pre-bake your pie crust.  While it cools, prepare your ganache:  Place chocolate and butter in a medium bowl; set aside.  Combine cream, sugar, and salt in a small saucepan over medium heat and stir until sugar dissolves and liquid is just at a simmer, about 4 minutes.   Pour cream mixture over chocolate and butter and let sit until melted, about 4 minutes. Gently stir until smooth.  (If you still have some lumps, you can microwave briefly on very low power.  I’m sure there’s a reason this is verboten, but I had no problems).  Pour ganache into the cooled tart shell and transfer to the refrigerator. Chill until set, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.  I think this is best served at room temperature, so that the filling is lighter-tasting and the chocolate flavor more intense.