Entries from October 29th, 2007

Daring Bakers Challenge: Teeny Bostini

October 29th, 2007 · 82 Comments · Cakes, Chocolate, Custards, Events, Recipes

Bostini1

One of the best aspects of being in the Daring Bakers is learning about new recipes you’ve never heard of or might never have thought of trying. This was the case this month, when our host Mary of Alpineberry unveiled our challenge: her favorite recipe for Bostini Cream Pie. This dessert was actually created in San Francisco by Donna Scala and Kurt Baguley of the Bay Area classics Scala’s Bistro and Bistro Don Giovanni. A twist on Boston cream pie, this recipe consists of a zesty orange chiffon cake in a pool of velvety vanilla custard, drizzled with a deep chocolate sauce. Every spoonful is pure creamy luxury in your mouth, a perfect comfort dessert for the cold winter months.

Since the recipe components were fairly straightforward and Mary gave us free reign to assemble them as we pleased, this was an opportunity to get creative with our plating techniques. My first thought when I looked at the fluffy cake, the pale yellow custard, and the rich dark chocolate was that this could be one of Pierre Hermé’s Emotions, those little test tubes in which gustatory delight are alchemized into museum-worthy perfection. I decided, what more elegant way to show off and contrast the various elements of the Bostini than layered in a glass?

Although the Emotions are presented in wider, rounder, glasses, I went with smaller, narrower vodka glasses because I liked the idea of displaying them all on ice, just like shots of vodka. Indeed, with a glass this small and narrow, you almost want to "shoot" the entire dessert at once – or at least make sure there is an appropriately tiny spoon handy!

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It’s not necessary, of course, to use shot glasses – be sure to check all the other Daring Bakers to get some other very creative and lovely takes on this recipe – but you should try out the recipe at least once, as I really loved the combination of flavors and textures. The only thing I might do differently next time is to bake the cake in a smaller pan; I spread the cake batter out in a half sheet pan and cut out circles for the glasses from it, but it wasn’t quite thick enough to get the depth I needed so I ended up having to layer several cutout circles. I probably should have used a smaller pan so it would have baked up thicker in the first place. Nevertheless, the cake was wonderfully light and moist, and the orange was a nice tart note to balance out the richness of the custard and the chocolate. Thanks Mary for giving the Daring Bakers another fun challenge!

Bostini Cream Pie
makes 8 generous servings
Custard:
3/4 cup whole milk
2 3/4 tablespoons cornstarch
1 whole egg, beaten
9 egg yolks, beaten
3 3/4 cups heavy whipping cream
1/2 vanilla bean
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon sugar

Chiffon Cake:
1 1/2 cups cake flour
3/4 cup superfine sugar
1 1/3 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup canola oil
1/3 cup beaten egg yolks (3 to 4 yolks)
3/4 cup fresh orange juice
1 1/2 tablespoons grated orange zest
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup egg whites (about 8 large)
1 teaspoon cream of tartar

Chocolate Glaze:
8 ounces semi or bittersweet chocolate
8 ounces unsalted butter

To prepare the custard:

Combine the milk and cornstarch in a bowl; blend until smooth. Whisk in the whole egg and yolks, beating until smooth. Combine the cream, vanilla bean and sugar in a saucepan and carefully bring to a boil. When the mixture just boils, whisk a ladleful into the egg mixture to temper it, then whisk this back into the cream mixture. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Strain the custard and pour into 8 large custard cups. Refrigerate to chill.

To prepare the chiffon cakes:

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Spray 8 molds with nonstick cooking spray. You may use 7-ounce custard cups, ovenproof wide mugs or even large foil cups. Whatever you use should be the same size as the custard cups.

Sift the cake flour, sugar, baking powder and salt into a large bowl. Add the oil, egg yolks, orange juice, zest and vanilla. Stir until smooth, but do not overbeat.

Beat the egg whites until frothy. Add the cream of tartar and beat until soft peaks form. Gently fold the beaten whites into the orange batter. Fill the sprayed molds nearly to the top with the batter.

Bake approximately 25 minutes, until the cakes bounce back when lightly pressed with your fingertip. Do not overbake. Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack. When completely cool, remove the cakes from the molds. Cover the cakes to keep them moist.

To prepare the glaze:

Chop the chocolate into small pieces. Place the butter in a saucepan and heat until it is just about to bubble. Remove from the heat; add the chocolate and stir to melt. Pour through a strainer and keep warm.

To assemble:

Cut a thin slice from the top of each cake to create a flat surface. Place a cake flat-side down on top of each custard. Cover the tops with warm chocolate glaze. Serve immediately.

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SHF#36 : Tipsy Apples

October 22nd, 2007 · 21 Comments · Events, Fruit, Recipes

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Andrew of Spittoon Extra has picked a very fun and timely theme for this month’s Sugar High Friday: Apples and alcohol. Timely because the markets are overflowing with all sorts of apples in their round-cheeked, rosy-skinned glory, and fun because, well, spirits always make things a little more fun.

I also found the perfect recipe to celebrate apples and the increasingly nippy weather. (Apologies to those who are already moving from autumn’s soft shivers to winter’s frosty grip: we have just had our first weekend where you wake up to a brilliant, hard-etched blue shell of a sky outside the window and realize, as you throw back the covers to jump out of bed, that you’re not emerging into any toasty beams of morning sunlight, but instead the air hitting your sleep-warmed body is rather…cold, and you’re scrambling for slippers and a robe before your mind can even register that it’s no longer summer anymore.) When I get home now from work, it’s not to a sunlit or even grey-fogged afternoon, with sunset still hours off; now it’s purple and crimson sky fading to black, myriad lights already coruscating in a city half shadowed. At this moment, my apartment seems cozier than ever, and the best thing I can imagine is to fill it up with the murmur of music and the smell of something in the oven.

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This recipe, from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course, certainly fits the last bill: the scent of baking apples, caramelizing brown sugar, and toasting nuts is as heavenly a paean to fall as I can imagine. It’s amazingly satisfying, too, for surprisingly little work. Apples, carefully hollowed out, are filled with a mixture of sugar, nuts, dried fruit, and butter, and placed in the oven to bake into little cups of fall bliss. Fleming’s recipes doesn’t use any spices, instead relying on the brown sugar and butter to infuse the apple with sweet caramel flavor, but I think a sprinkling some cinnamon, nutmeg, or allspice would go wonderfully with the recipe. The toasted pecans and almonds add crunchy interest, and the dried cherries a vivid sweet punctuation to the dessert. Again, this recipe seems ripe for adaption: walnuts, dried cranberries or dried figs spring to mind as lovely substitutions.

When baking apples, pick firmer ones that will hold up in the oven – you don’t want them to turn to mush. Fleming suggests Cortland; McIntosh, Empire, and Gala work well too. Of course, Granny Smith and Golden Delicious are old standbys, but if you can find some other varieties try them out: many of them have their own distinctive, lovely flavors. I used Pippin apples, which are crisp and slightly less tart than Granny Smith, and turn nicely tender but not mushy in the oven.

So where’s the alcohol? In a Calvados caramel sauce made to drizzled over and around the oven-hot apples. The apple brandy adds a smooth richness to the sweet caramel and turns the baked apple from simple treat to luxe dessert. I realized when I was thinking of how to plate my apples, that with all the different colors, shapes, and textures of the components, it was almost like a modern art piece. So I present to you: Autumn Whimsy in Apple and Caramel. I like to think of it as a colorful little ode to fall.

By the way, I found out about this after I’d already made the apples, so I couldn’t incorporate it into SHF, but if you are looking for a really nice combination of apples and alcohol, I would recommend Lindemans Pomme apple lambic: I’m normally not a big beer drinker, but this is like a sweet fizzy cider. Maybe too sweet for regular beer drinkers, but for someone with a sweet tooth, it’s quite a tasty way to imbibe.

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Baked Apples with Dried Fruits and Nuts

adapted from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course

makes 6 servings

1/3 cup dark brown sugar

3 Tablespoons dried cherries, roughly chopped

2 Tablespoons sliced almonds, roughly chopped and toasted

2 Tablespoons pecans, roughly chopped and toasted

6 large, firm baking apples, cored but not peeled

3 Tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup apple cider

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Combine the brown sugar, cherries, and nuts in a small bowl.

Place the apples in a baking dish large enough to hold them all comfortably. Fill the apple cavities with the sugar mixture (When the apples bake, the mixture will melt and sink slightly, so you might want to reserve some to top the apples when you pull them out).

Break the butter into six equal pieces and place one of top of the filling of each apple.

Pour the cider into the bottom of the baking dish.

Bake apples for about 25 to 30 minutes, basting the apples every 5 to 7 minutes with cider. The apples should become tender but not mushy.

When the apples are ready, remove from the oven and carefully move to a plate or individual dishes before serving with the Calvados caramel sauce.

Calvados Caramel Sauce

adapted from Emily Luchetti’s A Passion for Ice Cream

makes about 3/4 cup

1/2 cup sugar

1/8 cup water

1/2 cup heavy cream

1 Tablespoon Calvados or apple brandy

pinch of salt

1/2 oz (1 Tablespoon) unsalted butter, softened

Combine sugar and water in a heavy saucepan and cook over medium heat on stove until sugar dissolves.

Turn heat to high and cook sugar until it is golden brown in color. Remove saucepan from heat and pour in the cream slowly – the caramel will bubble and sputter so don’t dump in the cream too quickly.

Stir the mixture until the cream is incorporated – if it starts to harden place back on heat briefly to make the caramel melt.

Add in the butter and stir until completely incorporated.

Let cool and refrigerate until ready to use. You can reheat it if it firms up too much.

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A Better Brioche for World Bread Day

October 16th, 2007 · 38 Comments · Breads, Events, Recipes

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Do bad things always happen in threes? My pastry teacher told us that she would always get kitchen injuries in groups of three. While that hasn’t happened to me so far (knock on wood), I did encounter a couple of technological mishaps in my attempts to bake something for World Bread Day – this entry certainly came quite perilously close to not occurring in time. First, my beloved KitchenAid broke down -  is there any more awful kitchen appliance disaster, especially when you’re trying to make bread? Fortunately, a trip to the repair shop revealed that the speed control was merely jammed up, and it got fixed in a couple of days (I never dreamed my kitchen could look so naked without the graceful, sentry-like silhouette of my stand mixer – I felt quite off-kilter and bereft).

With the return of a fully functional KitchenAid, I set about mixing up a batch of brioche for Kochtopf‘s annual salute to the glories of yeast. With the success of brioche fresh and gloriously golden from the oven, photos eagerly snapped, I was all ready to write my post. And then…my computer broke down! Fizzled out. It was about that time that I wondered if maybe I was not meant to contribute to World Bread Day and I would just sit at home and cry into my basket of brioche.

Well, my computer is still being repaired, but I have very fortunately got a temporary computer to use, so I am able to share the happy results of my breadbaking with you all, and I am very furiously knocking on wood to ward off the power going off in my building, or my oven combusting, or some other disaster.

I am very thrilled to participate again in World Bread Day – perhaps it’s no coincidence that my entry last year was also brioche-based, given how much I love this ultimate way to have dessert for breakfast. This time, I seized on the chance to try out a new brioche recipe from Alice Medrich’s glorious Pure Dessert.

Adapted from her friend Desiré Valentin’s (how perfect a name is that?) recipe, Medrich’s brioche is luxuriously rich and meltingly delicate, like eating honey-spun,sunshine-dipped clouds. A dollop of sour cream in the dough adds to the refined texture and accentuates the warm buttery lusciousness. Most intriguingly, Medrich suggests swirling raw sugar into her brioche to create a ribbon of contrasting flavor – her new book is all about exploring new ingredients like unrefined sugars. I followed her idea and folded a streusel-like mixture of butter and muscavado sugar into the dough, then formed it into the classic brioche à tête.

Muscavado sugar, or Barbados sugar, gets its color and flavor not from molasses but from sugar cane juice. It is dark, very sticky, and smells intensely fruity, almost like grapes. It has a earthy, fruit taste quite different from regular brown sugar. Added to the brioche, it gives the bread an added dimension of rich sweetness and takes it even closer to dessert territory – if you enjoy Danishes and other filled pastries, this is what brioche laced with extra butter and sugar is like!

I used a lighter brown muscavado sugar, so it is not so apparent in my brioche, but you might be able to see parts where it appears darker or to be glistening – that would be a streak of warm, melting sugary joy running through soft, pillowy reaches of the bread. I’d love to try the brioche again with a dark muscavado sugar, or some piloncillo sugar – this is certainly a bread that needs no additional adornment, just a languid Saturday morning, freshly brewed coffee, newspaper spread over the table, and the city waking up just outside the window.

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Desiré’s Brioche

adapted from Alice Medrich’s Pure Dessert

makes about 10 individual brioche

Dough

3 cups (15 oz) bread flour

20 tablespoons (10 oz ) unsalted butter, cold

1 envelope active dry yeast

1/3 cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar

1/4 cup warm water (105 to 115 degrees F)

5 large eggs, cold

1 tablespoon sour cream

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

Filling

3/4 cup ( 5 1/2 oz) muscavado or piloncillo sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1 egg for egg wash

To make the brioche dough: Place the flour into a bowl, cover, and chill in the freezer for about 15 minutes. This will help keep the dough cool while you are mixing it and prevent the butter from melting.

Cut the butter into 1-in pieces and place in the mixer bowl. Beat with the paddle only until the butter is smooth and there are no hard lumps; do not overbeat and let it get soft and creamy. Place the butter in a bowl, cover, and store in the refrigerator while you prepare the rest of the dough.

Place the yeast, water and 1 teaspoon of sugar in a clean mixer bowl and let the yeast dissolve.

Add the 1/3 cup sugar, eggs, sour cream, eggs, and flour, and mix with the dough hook on low speed until all the ingredients are combined.

Knead the dough for about 5 minutes on medium speed until it forms a ball around the dough hook and is moist and sticky but not gooey or mushy; you should be able to form it into a cohesive ball.

Add the cold butter a few pieces at a time, letting them incorporate into the dough before adding more. Scrape the bowl down as necessary.

Scrape the dough into an oiled bowl and cover. Refrigerate overnight or for up to 24 hours.

When you are ready to make the brioche: Butter individual brioche tins or pans if you want to make loaves.

Take the dough out of the refrigerator and scrape out on a floured surface. Roll out to about 18 by 12 inches by 1/2 inch thick – the dimensions don’t need to be too precise as long as you keep the thickness even.

Mix together the softened butter and muscavado sugar and salt. Spread the mixture evenly over the dough, leaving a one inch margin on one long side.

Roll up the dough on the long side, pressing down firmly on the seam to completely seal it.  You can now either slice off pieces to form into the little boules for brioche à tête, or you can slice into segments and bake off in the loaf pans. If you are making brioche à tête, you may need to use a bit of flour to keep the dough from becoming too sticky as you are working it.

(I am not going into detail about making brioche à tête; if someone really wants to learn about the process, I can write about it at a later time!)

Cover the tins or pans with plastic wrap and place in a warm place. Let the dough rise until doubled, about 2 hours.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Beat the egg with about a teaspoon of water to make an egg wash. Brush the tops of the brioche with the egg wash, avoiding the sides of the pan (otherwise the egg will make your dough stick to the pan and it will rise unevenly).

Bake the brioche for about 20-25 minutes, until the tops are deep golden brown and the bottoms of the tins sound hollow when tapped. If you are baking loaves it may take longer.

Cool brioche on a wire rack for about 5 minutes, then unmold and let finish cooling. They are best eaten warm, but you can easily rewarm them in the oven or toast older brioche.

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Consider the Humble Chocolate Chip Cookie

October 9th, 2007 · 43 Comments · Cookies, Recipes

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Regan Daley’s Soft and Chewy Chocolate Chunk Cookies

After weeks of poring over new cookbooks and testing out new recipes, I suddenly felt the urge to do something simple and familiar. Maybe it’s the increasingly nippy fall mornings, the grey clouds trundling across the sky like a soft cuddly blanket being unrolled, but I felt like making something warm and comforting…like chocolate chip cookies. No fancy twiddling around or exotic ingredients, just fresh, fragrant promises of happiness from the oven.

That was what I intended, anyway. Then I decided I might want to take a look at my tried-and-true cookie recipe and compare to some of the other recipes in my new cookbooks. Maybe do a taste comparison of recipes. And while I was at it, maybe I could see if I could incorporate any of the lessons I’d learned while working in a professional bakery to improve my cookies at home.

What was supposed to be a quick batch of cookies turned into a marathon bakeoff between four cookie recipes, along with a compilation of all the little cookie-making tips I’d accumulated over the years. Although I really (seriously!) wish I could share all the fruits of my oven’s labor with you, I figure I could at least share what I discovered (not the least realization being that you really can eat too many cookies in one sitting, no matter how delicious they are). So following I present some of my cookie-baking tips, along with an analysis of how many ways you can make a chocolate chip cookie.

Cookie Basics:

Measure accurately – I’m sure that most home bakers by now know the importance of careful and consistent measurement of ingredients, so I won’t dwell on the basics. I will note that I do just about all my measuring on a scale, foregoing the imprecision of measuring cups (I do still use measuring spoons for small amounts). With so many inexpensive digital scales available these days, I would really recommend that anyone who is even a halfway avid baker invest in one – you’ll be amazed at how much easier it makes measuring ingredients and how much more confident you’ll feel about getting the quantities correct. I’m trying to post all my recipes on Dessert First with both imperial and metric measurements, and I’m also planning on putting up some standard conversions as well, although there are plenty of excellent converters on the internet already if you take a look around.

Have ingredients at the right temperature: It’s best for all the ingredients in a recipe to be at around the same temperature (unless otherwise specified) – usually this means having butter and eggs out of the refrigerator and at room temperature. What does room temperature mean, though? For butter, this means between 65 to 70 degrees F: soft enough for you to make an impression in the surface when you press firmly, but not melting, squishy, or oily. If it’s too firm, you won’t be able to cream it properly because the sugar will be unable to work into the butter and aerate it. If it’s too soft, it will be unable to retain as much air and fluff up, leading to heavy, dense, greasy product. Eggs will also incorporate into batter better if they are at room temperature; if you’ve neglected to take them out of the refrigerator soon enough, you can place them in a bowl of warm water for a few minutes to warm them up.

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Sherry Yard’s Quintessential Chocolate Chip Cookies

Making cookies

Cream butter and sugar together properly – How can the words "light and fluffy" strike fear into the hearts of so many? If you’re practical-minded like me, finding out the science behind light and fluffy will help you figure out what to look for. When you are creaming butter and sugar together, you are cutting the sugar into the butter, creating little pockets of air in the fat – aerating it. It’s this incorporation of air into butter that determines if you will get a tender, light cookie or a dense, leaden one. So how do you know if you’ve done it right? The creamed butter and sugar should increase in volume and lighten in color to almost white. You should not be able to see sugar particles in the butter. It is possible to overcream butter – it will become shiny and eventually break down – but hopefully you won’t have neglected the mixer for that long! Also, using butter at the proper temperature as discussed above will ensure you can get your mixture light and fluffy in no time at all.

Practice uniform cookie size - Of course, the size you make your balls of cookie dough will determine how fast they bake, but it’s also important to try keep the size as uniform as possible so all the cookies will bake the same. For the truly meticulous, the best method is to weigh out blobs of dough on a scale and aim for the same weight each time – this might be an interesting exercise if you’re trying to figure out how much dough goes into your ideal cookie size. If that seems like too much trouble for you, using a cookie scoop works just fine as well.

Know the difference between your baking pans - Sometimes when I’m short of sheets I want to grab any flat surface in the kitchen. But it helps to know how different types of pans affect the baking of cookies. Cookie sheets, or baking sheets, are rimless on two or three sides and allow excellent circulation of air around the dough. Jelly roll pans are rimmed and work nicely for cookie baking, but you should be aware that baking time might be longer because the rim will block some of the heat from the cookie dough. I have some professional grade half-sheet pans made of heavy-gauge aluminum that are 12"x18" in size; they work wonderfully as cookie sheets. Regardless of what you use, it’s best if it is as sturdy and durable as possible; flimsy lightweight cookie sheets may warp in the oven and lead to uneven baking. Also avoid dark colored surfaces as they may overcook the bottoms of your cookies before the tops are done. Aluminum sheets are ideal.

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Dorie Greenspan’s Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

Baking:

Know your oven – Every oven is different, so get to know yours and its lovable or not so lovable idiosyncrasies. Does the temperature run high or low? Where are the hot spots? In order to ensure even baking of all cookies, I usually rotate my sheets halfway through the baking time, both from back and from top to bottom rack so all the cookies get even heating.

Always check before the specified time - Even if I think I’ve figured out my oven’s quirks, I still look in on my cookies a minute or so before they’re supposed to be done. This is to account for any variances on my part in making the batter; after working in a bakery and making cookies day after day, it’s surprising how you may think you’re making the same recipe in exactly the same way each time, but a little change in the temperature of the ingredients, how long you beat the batter, how big you shape the cookies, can lead to very different results. It’s tempting to just set the timer and forget about it, but I like to err on the side of caution and check in to see how the cookies are doing. Don’t open the oven during the first few minutes of baking though, and don’t open the oven too many times or you’ll lower the temperature of the interior too much and prevent the cookies from baking properly.

Pull out cookies before they are completely done - This was the hardest lesson for me to learn back when I first started making cookies in the kitchen. I would pull out a sheet of golden brown cookies, nice and firm to the touch, only to have them turn into rock-hard pucks as they cooled down. Since cookies will continue to bake as they sit on the sheets, if it’s that soft chewiness you’re looking for, you’ll need to pull them out when the edges are just turning brown at the edges and are lightly golden on top. They shouldn’t look raw in the center, but if they still soft to the touch they will stay soft after cooling. If you’re looking for crisp cookies, you can leave them in the oven for a few minutes longer, but I’ve found that some recipes work better for thin crispy cookies than others – see below.

Don’t reuse hot sheets - I know it’s tempting, especially because most of us only have a few cookie sheets and usually a lot of dough, but reusing hot sheets right out of the oven will melt the dough before it can bake properly. Instead, rinse the sheets off in the sink with cold water to cool them down before reusing them.

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Kate Zuckerman’s Crispy, Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

All right, now that I’ve gotten past general tips on perfecting your cookie-baking technique, on to the specifics. I compared chocolate chip cookie recipes from four of my favorite cookbook authors: Kate Zuckerman, Dorie Greenspan, Sherry Yard, and Regan Daley. Since the amounts of butter, eggs, baking soda, and salt were pretty much the same, as well as the methods of making and baking the dough, I used these similarities as a baseline to see the difference varying amounts of sugar and flour would make.

Ingredients      Kate      Dorie       Sherry      Regan

Butter               4 oz      4 oz          4 oz           4 oz

                       (113g)  (113g)       (113g)        (113g)

Eggs                 1/2*      1              1               1

Flour                 7/8 cup  1 cup       3/4 cup      1 1/2 cup + 1

                                                                       Tbsp

                        (120g)    (140g)     (100g)        (222g)

Sugar                none       1/2 cup    3/8 cup     1/4 cup

                                      (100g)      (74g)         (52g)      

Brown sugar      3/4 cup    1/3 cup    1/8 cup    1/2 cup

                        (170g)     (72g)        (28g)        (110g)

Baking soda      1/2 tsp    1/2 tsp     1/4 tsp      1/2 tsp

Salt     &nbsp ;            1/8 tsp    1/2 tsp     1/8 tsp    1/4 tsp

Vanilla              1/4 tsp     1 tsp        1/2 tsp      3/4 tsp

Choc. chips       4 oz          6 oz         4 oz           8 oz

                        (116g)     (174g)      (116g)        (232g)

* plus 1/2 egg white

How were the results? Well, the first and most noticeable difference is that Daley’s recipe uses almost twice as much flour as any of the other recipes. This led to a firmer, cakey texture and a cookie that held its shape the best of all four – it hardly spread at all in the oven and retained its roundness and heft (see top photo). This is definitely for those who like to bite into a thick and substantial cookie. I’ve used this cookie several times before and it was always well received.

Zuckerman’s recipe is the only one made with just brown sugar, and it baked up exactly as she described: flat, chewy, with strong, addictive caramelly-butterscotchy flavor. All that brown sugar also means this cookie will stay moist for a while in the cookie jar. Greenspan’s cookie is pretty similar to Zuckerman’s but not quite as thin or chewy – these two cookies were the most similar to each other of the four, and most like what I consider the current trend for chocolate chip cookies: flattish, craggy-surfaced with chips, crisp at the edges and chewy to very slightly underbaked at the center. In short, delicious. It was very interesting to see how varying proportions of sugar affected the texture of the cookie.

Yard’s cookie is an interesting middle road between the other three: it uses the least flour and sugar, and the resulting cookie is very light and airy, almost like a madeleine. It also uses the least amount of brown sugar, so it has the least caramel flavor; compared to the other three it tasted more of vanilla cookie laced with chocolate chips. This is lovely, delicate little cookie – I don’t think I’ve ever had a chocolate chip cookie like this one before.

Using the same ingredients for four seemingly similar recipes, it was amazing to compare how differently they came out. So what’s the conclusion? That there is room out there for many fabulous chocolate chip cookies, and plenty of freedom for you to experiment in your kitchen and find your perfect recipe. I liked all four of the cookies, but I’m thinking of tweaking the proportions of flour and sugar a little more to get the cookie I’m envisioning. Fortunately for me, there appears to quite the eager audience for the also-rans; otherwise I’d be awash in all the cookies from my experiments!

Oh, I almost forgot one last cookie-making tip: chocolate chip cookie dough freezes beautifully. So if you don’t think you’ll be able to finish off a batch of cookies in one day, scoop the leftover dough into balls, place securely in a plastic bag, and store in the freezer. You can then enjoy fresh-baked cookies whenever you desire!

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{Cookbook Review} A Sneak Peek at Desserts by the Yard

October 4th, 2007 · 13 Comments · Cookbooks, Fruit, Pastry, Recipes

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If you recall my cookbook wishlist from a few weeks ago, you’ll know that my bookcase is being threatened with imminent collapse in the next couple of months. How fortunate then that I recently received an advance copy of Sherry Yard’s upcoming Desserts by the Yard: since it was softcover and weighed less, I was still able to squeeze it into my pile of books. Better yet, it’s more comfortable to read in bed!

I’m only half joking when I say cookbooks are my bedtime reading of choice, but Sherry Yard’s new tome really is one you can sit down and read from cover to cover. It’s half memoir, half cookbook, and entirely entertaining and fascinating. Yard recounts her life as one long love affair with desserts, from her childhood in Brooklyn to her storied partnership with Wolfgang Puck at his dazzling collection of restaurants. The book is divided into sections by her various experiences around the world instead of the usual chapters on cakes, cookies, and tarts; while this may seem confusing at first, it ultimately works with Yard’s narratives to paint a complete picture of how her tastes developed and how she draws inspiration from all parts of her life.

From the early chapters recounting her days growing up in Brooklyn, we get recipes based on her mother’s homemade chocolate mousse, her favorite birthday cake from the local bakery, and her grandmother’s strawberry sodas. Moving on to her beginnings as a pastry chef in the exciting culinary scene of New York City in the 1980s, Yard shares the chocolate souffle she made at the Rainbow Room and the caramelized banana tart that was a favorite at the Tribeca Grill. We follow Yard as she travels west, first to San Francisco and Napa, and then down to Los Angeles, developing, as she says, from a pastry chef to a dessert chef. The recipes grow more sophisticated and complex, and reflect her new found love of seasonal produce and farmers’ markets: mango upside-down cake with blueberries, chocolate "purses", ginger creme brulee tart with figs and mulberries.

Yard ends with some of the showstopper desserts she’s created for the Governors Ball that Wolfgang Puck caters after every Academy Awards: chocolate boxes, twelve-layer Dobos torte, miniature Oscars made out of chocolate. By now one is completely blown away by all the Yard has experienced and done so far in her amazing career: she has worked in some of the best-known restaurants around the world, served dessert to thousands of celebrities, and yet remains sweetly down-to-earth and wonderfully enthusiastic about sharing her love of pastry with the world.

Yard’s charming, intimitable style makes this book a real standout among baking books. Not only are the recipes creative and clearly written (those who have her first book, The Secrets of Baking, will not be disappointed), but they are grounded by her storytelling, giving them a history and personality that makes them that much more appealing. It’s the difference between the recipe for chocolate chip cookies on a bag of flour and finding Grandmother’s own version of apple pie in her recipe box. All of Yard’s recipes have the most fascinating headnotes recounting how she was inspired to create this dessert, whether it was a childhood memory or newly discovered fruit at the market or a trip to Vienna. It makes, as I said, for absorbing reading outside of the kitchen, and a great motivator afterwards to get in the kitchen and start baking!

As this is an advance, unfinished copy, I don’t want to give away any of the recipes yet, since they might be revised in the final version. But I did try her nectarine cobbler, since I picked up some really pretty nectarines at the market, and the result is stellar. Nectarines are baked in a bath of champagne, honey, lemon juice and spices, topped with a cross between a biscuit and puff pastry. Such a simple, cozy hug of a dessert on a crisp, autumn-scented evening: sweet warm fruit under a crumbly buttery crust. I’m definitely putting many of the other recipes from the book on my to-make list.

Desserts by the Yard should show up in bookstores very soon – I’m looking forward to seeing the published version, even if it means further rearrangement of my bookcase!  P.S. Check out Veronica’s early review too – the two of us are like little kids jumping up and down waiting for Santa to arrive with new books!

Nectcobbler

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