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Easy Decisions: Vanilla and Milk Chocolate Striped Cakes

19 Jun

While thinking recently about what to bake, I came across that age-old question: Vanilla or chocolate? And it occurred to me that sometimes, you should not have to make such a decision and can, in fact, have everything you want. These little cakes are proof of that.

And they look pretty, too!

Vanilla and Milk Chocolate Striped Cakes

  • 1 ½ cups + 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. kosher salt
  • 4 oz. unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • ¼ cup yogurt mixed with ¼ cup milk
  • 4 oz. milk chocolate, chopped small
  • 2 tbsp. coffee

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a muffin tin or mini bundt pan.

Combine the chocolate and coffee in a small pot and melt over low heat, stirring until smooth. Set aside to cool slightly.

Sift together the flour, salt, and baking powder in a small bowl.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter and sugar until fluffy.

Add the egg and vanilla extract and beat until thick.

Add the flour and milk/yogurt mixture alternately, beginning and ending with flour, and beat until just combined.

Put half the batter in a separate bowl and stir in the melted chocolate.

Using a spoon or a small disher, drop alternate spoonfuls of chocolate and vanilla batter into the pan. It will look something like this:

Bake the cakes for 23 minutes, or until they spring back when touched gently.

Cool in the pan for 10 minutes and then turn out onto a wire rack.

These are pretty sweet cakes because of the milk chocolate, so I omitted frosting and opted for a little bit of whipped cream instead. Delicious!

Sometimes you do get to have everything you want in one perfect little package. Pretty great, isn’t it?

Ciao for now,

Neen

Back to Bread Baking: Rosemary Asiago Focaccia

7 Jun

So, it’s been a very strange two months.

The first week of April, I woke up suddenly with back pain so excruciating, Joe and I had to cancel our annual trip to Boston for PAX East. Things deteriorated from there. My joints swelled randomly and massively, there were weeks at a time when I could not walk, and I was in constant, excruciating pain. After a long two months of MRIs, x-rays, labs, and doctor appointments, I was finally diagnosed last week with rheumatoid arthritis. While things haven’t improved greatly (yet), I am much more comfortable and have a treatment plan to move forward.

Needless to say, I wasn’t doing much cooking. The last couple of weeks I’ve had a little more energy, my hands hurt a little less, and I have started to cook some meals and get back to baking. I’ve been going for a lot of comfort foods like meatloaf, soups, and homemade pasta. But what really feels like home to me is baking bread. So when my rosemary plant decided to offer this…

I knew a really good focaccia was on the way.

Let’s get back in the kitchen together!

Rosemary Asiago Focaccia

Bread:
2 tsp. active dry yeast
1 cup warm water (110-115 degrees F)
2 tbsp. sugar
3 1/2 to 4 cups bread flour
1 tbsp. kosher salt
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tbsp. fresh rosemary, chopped
1.5 oz. finely grated asiago cheese

Toppings:
2 tsp. fresh rosemary, chopped
1 oz. coarsely grated asiago cheese

Dissolve the salt in 2 tbsp. of water and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the yeast, sugar, and water, and let stand until foamy, 5-10 min.

Turn the mixer on low speed and slowly add 3 1/2 cups of flour to the bowl. Add the salt water and olive oil, and once incorporated, add the chopped rosemary and finely grated asiago cheese.

Once the dough comes together, turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. (You can also knead this in a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, I just enjoy doing it by hand.) Add flour as needed if the dough is sticky.

Form the dough into a ball and transfer to an oiled bowl, tossing to coat in the oil. Cover the bowl loosely with plastic wrap or a towel and allow the dough to rise until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F and adjust a rack to the lower third of the oven.

Lightly oil a baking sheet and turn the risen dough out onto it. Gently stretch the dough into an oblong shape about ½ in. thick.

Let rest, uncovered, for 15 minutes.

Gently dimple the dough with your fingertips. Brush the surface of the dough with olive oil, and then sprinkle on the coarsely grated asiago cheese and chopped rosemary.

Bake the focaccia for 13-15 minutes or until golden brown all over. Allow it to rest at least 15 minutes before slicing.

This bread reheats especially well in the toaster or conventional oven (if you don’t finish it all in one day!)

While I often find the road ahead daunting and uncertain, I am lucky to be surrounded by supportive people, and have hobbies like cooking and yoga that ground me and offer me a meditative space. And I’ll keep writing to you here as often as I can, because food is meant to be shared and I will always be happy to share with you.

Ciao for now,

Neen

Pressed Perfection: Gram’s Pizzelles

6 Dec

I have introduced you to my Gram before, and shared with you her delicious stracciatella (you’re welcome). But there was in fact, a second recipe card she gave me at my bridal shower five years ago. A particular offering that appears on every Italian Christmas and wedding cookie tray, but seemingly only on those occasions, the pizzelle.

After my Gram passed away a few years ago, they stopped being a special occasion cookie only for me. They became a thing I made when I missed her and wanted to share her with people.  I pull out the pizzelle iron more than a few times a year, and most recently I brought it out right before Thanksgiving to share these with my students.

You’ll need one piece of special equipment, and that is the aforementioned pizzelle iron. There are many varieties, but this is the one I have. It bakes two cookies at a time.

Pizzelles

  • 3 eggs
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • ½ cup butter, melted and cooled*
  • 1 tbsp. vanilla or anise oil**
  • 1 ¾ cup flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • Pinch of salt

    *Gram’s recipe actually calls for margarine, I just never have it around
    **I use a combination of vanilla and almond extracts

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs, and then beat in the sugar until smooth.

Add the melted butter and extracts and mix well.

Finally, whisk the flour mixture into the egg mixture until a batter is formed.

Drop the batter by spoonfuls (I use a 1 ½ tbsp. disher) onto a preheated pizzelle iron and bake for 30 seconds, or until just golden.

Move to a wire rack to cool completely.

Yield: 24 5-in. cookies.

I know that as the holidays approach, I’ll definitely make more pizzelles to add to cookie trays and gifts for people. There’s always a moment of delight when someone receives these so beautifully pressed, crisp, sweet little treasures. And for me it means my Gram is still right here baking and sharing with me.

Ciao for now,

Neen

Un-puzzling Apple Pie

30 Nov

I’ve been after the perfect apple pie for a while. There are so many variables: What kind of fat in the crust? Cooked or uncooked filling? Cornstarch or flour? What kind of apples?

And I’ve encountered all of the usual problems too: Under-baked crust, melted or broken crust, mushy apples, watery filling. With every pie I’ve baked, I’ve had a chance to learn a little bit more about what works and what doesn’t.

The good news is that I’ve combined several methods that turn out a pie with a flavorful, flaky crust, and a filling that’s sweet-but-not-too-sweet and that holds together when sliced.

Here we use a pretty traditional all butter pastry, but stay mostly hands-off and also chill it several times throughout the process to keep it workable and stable. For the inside, I wanted to avoid a watery filling, but pre-cooked ones make the apples too mushy by the time the pie is baked, so we’ll instead take time to extract some juice from the apples, make it into a syrup, then toss the apples with that and cornstarch to create a filling with the perfect consistency.

Let’s do it to it!

Apple Pie

Crust:

  • 2 ½ cups unbleached, all purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 8 oz. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into chunks and chilled in the freezer for 10-15 minutes)
  • ¼ – ½ cup ice water

Filling:

  • 3 lbs. apples (Good varieties that will not break down are Honeycrisp, Fuji, Granny Smith, Macintosh, or Cortland). I used 3 large Honeycrisp and 3 Granny Smith for a balance of tart and sweet.
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ¼ brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. fresh ground nutmeg
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 2 tbsp. cornstarch

Prepare the crust by combining the flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor and mixing.

Add the butter in chunks, pulsing between additions, until the mixture is a sandy, pebbly texture.

Slowly add ice water while pulsing, until the dough holds together when pressed between fingers. Do not overmix.

Turn the mixture out onto a countertop and gather into a ball. Divide the dough in two pieces and flatten into discs. These weighed about 12.5 oz. each. Wrap these in plastic wrap and chill for 30 min – 1 hour.

To make the filling, peel, core, and slice the apples. I also quarter my slices.

Toss the apple slices with the sugars, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt and allow this to sit for at least 30 minutes, but up to an hour is fine.

Meanwhile, roll out one pie dough disc into a 12 in. circle, fit it into a pie pan, and trim the edges. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Roll the other dough disc into a 12 in. circle, place on a parchment-lined baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Then place a strainer over a bowl and pour in the apples. Allow them to drain for 30 minutes, or until ½-3/4 cup of juice has accumulated.

Take the pie dough circle on the baking sheet out of the refrigerator before you begin the next step to allow it to get slightly pliable.

Put the juice and the 2 tbsp. of butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat and boil until it reduces to about 1/3 cup and is syrupy, about 7-10 minutes.

In a bowl, toss the apples with the cornstarch and then toss with the reduced syrup.

Fill the pie crust with the apple mixture.

Gently wet the edges of the crust and place the top crust over the filling. Trim the edges and then crimp with a fork. Cut 5 slits in the top. Wrap the pie in plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Preheat an oven to 425 degrees F and place an aluminum foil-lined baking sheet on an oven rack placed on the lowest setting.

Once the oven is preheated, unwrap the pie and cover the edges with an aluminum foil ring to prevent the crust from overbrowning. Bake the pie for 45-55 minutes or until the fruit is bubbling and tender when poked through one of the slits. Remove the foil ring during the last 10 minutes of baking.

Allow the pie to cool for at least 4 hours before slicing.

Hope you have a chance to try this one during the holidays. It’s sure to make them merrier!

Ciao for now,

Neen

Belated Birthday Post: Cinnamon Cupcakes with Toasted Italian Meringue

1 Aug

When I woke up on my birthday last month, I had a strange lack of ingredients in the house. Less than a stick of butter, no powdered sugar, and no milk specifically. Not ideal for someone wanting to make birthday cake with frosting, but certainly by no means an impossible task.

What I came up with was actually pretty delicious and reminded me a lot of a cake I used to make for Joe a lot when we were first dating. As for the icing, normally I’m a buttercream kinda lady, but toasted Italian meringue may have won my heart over. It was light and crisp on the outside, and soft and marshmallow-y inside. A perfect companion for this warm, spicy cinnamon cake.

Cinnamon Cupcakes with Toasted Italian Meringue

Cake Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 3 oz. unsalted butter
  • 1 oz. cream cheese
  • 1 whole egg and two egg yolks
  • 1/2 tsp. almond extract
  • 1/2 cup whole milk yogurt

Italian Meringue Ingredients and Recipe Here

Method:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease 12 muffin cups or line with paper liners.

In a small bowl, combine the flour, salt, cinnamon, and baking powder and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer or using a hand blender, cream together the butter, cream cheese, and sugar until light and fluffy.

Add the whole egg and egg yolks one at a time, mixing between additions and scraping down the bowl. Then add the almond extract.

With the mixer on low speed, alternate adding the yogurt and the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, scraping the bowl between additions, until everything is just combined.

Divide the batter evenly among the cups.

Bake for 23-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely.

To frost, spoon or pipe the meringue on top of the cupcakes and then place under a broiler for 15-30 seconds or use a blow torch to lightly brown the meringue.

These were a pretty delicious way to celebrate #32, I have to say. I bet they’d be great with other toppings too, like maple buttercream, or a crisp brown sugar and oat crumble. Give them a try soon!

Ciao for now,

Neen

Crispy, Chewy Thin Crust Pizza

20 Sep

I love all kinds of pizza. Thick squares covered in crushed tomatoes and romano cheese, thin floppy slices oozing with mozzarella, deep dish pieces, and yes, the slightly charred crispy Neapolitan-style pies.

My better half like his pizzas thin and crispy. I’ve spent YEARS cooking thin crust pizzas in my slightly under-powered oven and for a long time just wasn’t getting the result I wanted. Okay, sure, you can preheat a pizza stone in your oven for a while and probably get a pie that’s crisp and chewy, but let’s be realistic: Who has time to do that?

No, the real secret to a perfect crust, even for bread, is airflow. Yes, I defy all of you pizza stone experts, because unless you’ve got my dad’s fires-from-hell brick oven, there is a better, easier way to get the perfect pizza or bread crust at home.

First let’s deal with the dough itself. This recipe is an amalgamation of at least four other people’s recipes, but it is velvety, easy to work with dough with a beautiful flavor.

Perfect Pizza Dough (for one 16 in. pizza or two smaller pizzas)

  • 3 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tbsp. salt dissolved in 2 tbsp. warm water
  • 2 ¼ tsp. active dry yeast
  • 1 cup warm water (about 110-115 degrees)
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

Combine the water, sugar, and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and let it sit until the mixture is very foamy, about 5 minutes.

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Add the flour to the yeast mixture, and then add the salt water. Finally, gently stream in the olive oil.

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Switch the paddle for a dough hook and knead until the dough is soft, smooth and pliable. I prefer to do this by hand and it takes about 10 minutes. Once you have a smooth dough, roll it into a tight ball.

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Oil a clean bowl and toss the dough ball to coat. Then cover the bowl lightly with plastic wrap, leave it in a warm spot, and allow the dough to rise until doubled in size, about one hour.

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After it has risen, gently punch the dough down and it is ready to use. Or store it in the refrigerator covered for up to a few days.

To bake, preheat an oven to 450 degrees F.

NOW, remember what I said earlier about airflow? You do not need an expensive pizza stone or a bunch of bricks on your oven rack, you need this:

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This is a 16 in. pizza screen, but they come in all sizes. It cost about $10. This is how we achieve a golden brown and crisp bottom with a nice, chewy interior.

Lightly oil the pan and then oil your hands. Stretch the pizza dough across the screen until it is even, then brush the surface with olive oil and top as desired. This is a classic marinara and whole milk mozzarella pie.

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Place the screen on the bottom rack of your oven and bake for about 12-13 minutes. Check it at 12, because the bottom can start to char quickly!

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Give the pizza a minute or two to cool, and then easily slide it off of the screen and on to your cutting board for slicing.


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Give this method a try on your next pie. You won’t be disappointed!

Ciao for now,

Neen