Friday, May 27, 2011

How to Make Fresh Whipped Cream (The Real Deal)

Okay - and I know this is going to sound weird - but I like whipping cream.  I mean, I like the process of whipping liquid, heavy cream into the stuff you put on ice cream and cobbler and pie and brownie sundaes and chewy chocolate cake, and sometimes jello.  If you eat jello.  That's what I'm talking about.  Why don't I just get the stuff in the can that squirts out like piped frosting?  Don't get me started.  And don't get me wrong, either; there is a time and a place for the whipped cream in a can, just as there is a time and a place for cool whip in the plastic container.  I ate that stuff on jello salads many times as a kid, and I'd do it again.  But there's nothing you can tell me that will convince me that there's any real substitute for freshly whipped cream, like the stuff on this strawberry shortcake below.
Strawberry shortcake (with shortbread and whipped cream)
I think the thing that really put fresh whipped cream on the map for me was when Herrell's was still selling ice cream in Harvard Square and I was eating hot fudge sundaes for dinner on a regular basis one summer a few years ago.  I still haven't had any hot fudge that has the same addictive quality as Herrell's hot fudge, and I'm losing hope that I ever will now that Herrell's in Harvard Square is no longer.  But the whipped cream!  Those kids behind the ice cream counter would spoon whipped cream onto the sundae straight out of a bowl.  And it was delicious!

For a while I had no idea why it was so good.  I don't think I had ever really had fresh whipped cream before, sad as that sounds ... and it sounds sad because it *was* sad - very, very sad.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Breakfast on a Rainy Day (or, Buttered Toast & Jam)

So, now is the time of year when the academic year closes, students move out of the dorm, the campus dining halls shut down, and I'm left to make my own meals ... more or less when my life starts resembling that of a regular adult's just a little bit more than usual.  It's also the time of my life when I am doing little else but sitting in my home or my office working on my dissertation, and I'm not doing any very involved baking or cooking at all.  And it's also a week when it's been rainy and cold, when hot coffee and warm, buttered toast sound especially perfect.  Some of the most delicious things don't require much to make happen.    

So here are the two big, fat slices of toasted semolina bread I ate for breakfast this morning, just out of the toaster oven.  In the process of getting buttered.  With the very cold butter straight from the refrigerator that needs to melt a little on the warm toast before it can be spread.  

And here is the very buttery toast ... oops, some of the crust  broke off in the process of buttering.  And hey, those seeds really make it happen.  Check out that sesame on the crust.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Berries & Buttercream, Chocolate &Ginger

Remember these cupcakes?

The ones you see in this photo are actually a twist on the ones from a posting of chocolate cupcakes from a few weeks ago, even though those three in the top row look just the same on the outside.  The chocolate cupcakes are from the same Martha Stewart recipe as in the other posts.  And yes, there are also blackberries on these, just like before.

However, there are two new things here.  One, I diced up some candied ginger and sprinkled it around the blackberry.  I think this combination worked really well for these reasons:

Berries + ginger = delicious
Berries + chocolate = delicious
Berries + buttercream = delicious!

This is something I started thinking about a while ago ... when do you ever get to eat fresh berries with buttercream?  Basically never, right?  It seems like berries tend to get paired with lighter cakes, whipped cream, or else put in tarts and pies.   Which, of course, are also delicious.  But the combination of the buttercream and berries really worked ... I think it's that concept of having something light and fresh cut through the rich, dense feel and flavor of the cake and buttercream.  And the ginger just brought out new flavors, too.  I really, really like the combination of flavors here.

Okay, the second new thing, which you can't see, is that these chocolate cupcakes are filled with whipped chocolate ganache - the same stuff swirled on top of the previous posting's cupcakes as a frosting.  Think: Hostess Cupcake ... only more super duper.  And while I'm not going to take the time to write about this right now, all those nasty yet amazing Hostess cupcakes I ate in junior high and then didn't touch again until a few months ago - on a strange and weird whim of sorts, but I'll get to that another time - really have proved inspirational recently, what with all of these posts on cupcakes and frosting and filling and blah blah blah. 

Anyway ... filling the cupcakes adds another step of preparation, and therefore time, but it's not difficult.  I just fitted a pastry bag with a tip that had the largest opening I could find, then I stuck the tip into the top of the cupcake and squeezed the ganache into the cupcake.  The cake is light enough that it expands to fit the ganache; no need to cut out a part of the cupcake to make room.  The top will look a little messy, but you cover it with the frosting so no one is any the wiser ... except all of you reading this since I just spilled the beans.  Smile.  Just the way you serve them up. 

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Quiche with Roasted Sweet Potatoes, Sage, Red Onion, and Goat Cheese

Photo: Dan Nystedt
I am such a huge fan of quiche.  It was on the regular menu in my house when I was a kid; maybe that's where it started.  And then in college, one of my favorite spots was a little restaurant in Hyde Park, somewhere around 53rd St. and E. Hyde Park Blvd. (does anyone remember the name of this place?  I think it was within a few doors of Mellow Yellow), where you could get quiche as a meal, with fresh fruit on the side.  Now as a grad student in Cambridge the delicious quiche at Crema Cafe has powered many a morning (or afternoon) of work, when I pick up a piece to go on my way to my office.

Although as far as doing actual baking goes, my gateway baked good was apple pie, after I got so absorbed with that I started thinking about what else would require pastry to cook ... and ta-da, quiche was back on the menu. 

Monday, May 2, 2011

Pre-Baking Quiche/Pie Crust: How-To

Photo 1: Rolled-out pastry dough
New Photography ... 

Eeesh, it's rough when your photographer friend who's been taking the photos posted on your blog has a life and can't be available at all hours of the day and night for taking beautiful photos at the random times you decide to cook.  And then you decide to try to take matters into your own hands, using a little point-and-shoot deal that you're trying on for size after not owning a camera for the last 3 years, and even before that one got stolen back then you didn't know much about technology and photography anyway.

In light of that, I thought it made sense to do a post with photos better for their explanatory rather than aesthetic value, while I figure out how my camera works and try to learn something about taking photos.    

Homemade Vs. Pre-made Crusts

I made a quiche with roasted sweet potatoes and sage last week, which I'll post about soon.  But in order to make a quiche, you need a pastry crust.

When I first started this baking frenzy I've been in for the last year and a half, quiche was one of my favorite things to make.  I caught sight of Elise Bauer's recipe for a carmelized onion quiche, and I couldn't even tell you how many times I made it.  It is delicious.  It was good for other people, too; one friend requested it while she was recovering from surgery and I stayed up late one night baking one to hand-deliver the following day.

Photo 2: Forming the pastry
But the thing about making a crust for quiche is that it is SO time-consuming.  First you mix the dough.  Then it has to chill.  Then you roll it out.  Then you have to form the ridges along the sides.  Then you have to pre-bake it, first using pastry weights, then just on its own.  And that requires either having pastry weights on hand, or figuring out a good substitute.  And only then can you actually put the custard inside it and bake the actual quiche.  It takes SO LONG.

So this new year I resolved to test out some pre-made crusts and see whether I could get a decent enough result.

My neighborhood grocery store has a pretty pathetic supply of pre-made crusts, so maybe twice I made quiche using those crusts that come already made and formed inside an aluminum pie tin.  Those were okay and didn't stop me or anyone else from eating the quiche, but you could really taste that the crust wasn't homemade.  Plus, they look pretty industrial, too, since the edges are kind of pressed into the pan and a little too uniform to have been made by hand.  And it's usually a bummer to me when food isn't pretty ... especially a quiche, which can be really gorgeous.

My next stop was to try pie crusts from Trader Joe's, which are what you see in these photos.  These come already rolled out, folded in the wax paper you see in the first photo (you can see the lines where it was folded up).  These aren't pre-baked like the ones in the aluminum tins are, but they do cut out the first few steps, which can take about an hour once you factor in chilling the dough you've mixed.(I know that other companies make frozen pie crusts like these, and I've seen them at other grocery stores.  So don't think it has to be Trader Joe's ... hopefully your neighborhood grocery store is more well-stocked than mine in this area).

Baking the Crust, Step by Step

Photo 3: Pre-baking the pastry with weights
It was simple to unwrap the pastry (Photo1), place it in the dish and form the ridges along the sides that you see in Photo 2, above.

Then for the pre-baking (also referred to as blind baking).  Sheesh, I really should get some pastry weights, for all the times I find myself trying to pre-bake a crust and having to scavenge around my kitchen for something to use for this.  Beans work great, but I guess I must have used those up.  I've used rice, too, but rice seems to have a way of escaping the parchment paper and sticking itself to the crust at some point in the process, then you have to tediously try to pull grains of rice off the crust without messing up the pastry.  Plus, on this occasion I didn't seem to have any rice, even so.  What I did have was a bag of dried split peas, which you can see in Photo 3.  These worked perfectly well, plus I liked the color!

I cut a large square of parchment paper from a roll, placed it over the formed crust, then trimmed the corners so that it became a circular shape.  You can see some slits along the sides of the paper; I cut these so that I could press the paper into the crust.  I  like to keep some of the edges of the paper so that I can fold them over the sides of the pie dish as the crust cooks.  This way the sides of the pastry are covered and don't brown more than the rest of it.  

Photo 4: The finished, pre-baked crust
After filling the parchment-lined pastry with the dried split peas, I cooked the crust at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.  Then I removed the crust from the oven and lifted out the the whole parchment-paper-split-peas ensemble at once by lifting it up by the sides of the parchment paper.  You want to be careful here, because you want to see that the crust is somewhat cooked - e.g., it's not still that completely dough-y texture, but rather is starting to look a bit flaky.  If you remove the paper and weights too early, when the dough hasn't cooked much, the dough will slip down the sides of the pan as it cooks without any filling in it, and you'll end up with a crust that tastes fine but which has short sides - more like the shape of a tart crust.  I've gotten a few questions about this issue (e.g., how to make sure the pie crust doesn't slip down the sides of the pan during the pre-baking phase) and I think it's generally an issue with not letting the crust bake enough before taking out the weights, rather than any issue with a particular recipe.  

Before putting the crust back in the oven without the weights, I poked holes in the bottom and sides of the crust with the tines of a fork, to allow air to escape as the pastry bakes.  You can leave the crust in the oven for another 10-15 minutes, or until it's golden brown.  The edges brown up a little more as the quiche is baking, so you don't want it to get too brown before you add the custard.  You can see the finished product in Photo 4.  I thought this crust actually tasted pretty close to a homemade one, especially since the texture and appearance could pass. 

More on the quiche filling to come soon!