Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Smoky Honey Caramel Corn with Pecans

Smoky Honey Caramel Corn with Pecans I've said it before and I'll say it again, sweet and salty is my jam. In fact, looking over the recipes I've posted here you all may think I have a flaky salt addiction. Who am I kidding, you're totally right. My favorite treats are the ones that keep you guessing a little bit, the ones that hit your taste buds from all angles. When I was putting this recipe together I was feeling a little wild so I tossed in some smoked paprika at the end which ended up being a light, subtle background note, and who doesn't love a honey roasted pecan? Not this gal.

p.s. Wow, wow! Thank you for all of the kind comments on my last post. I don't know what to say except, it's so nice to know that I'm not alone over here.

Smoky Honey Caramel Corn with Pecans

4T butter
2T water
1/2c honey
1c brown sugar
1T salt
1t baking soda
1t smoked paprika
2c pecan halves (optional, but recommended)
8c popped corn (from about 1/2c kernels)

Preheat oven to 200º and line 2 baking sheets with silicone mats, or grease well

1. Put the popped corn and pecans in a large bowl and lightly grease (or spray with cooking spray) two wooden or silicone spoons
2. In a heavy bottomed pot combine the butter, water, honey, brown sugar and salt. Bring to a boil over medium high heat and cook for 5 min. Whisk in the baking soda and smoked paprika.
3. Pour the hot sugar mixture over the pop corn and pecans and stir well to combine. This recipe makes a lot of syrup, so don't worry about getting it all out of the pan.
4. Divide the mixture between the two baking sheets and spread into an even layer.
5. Slide the baking sheets into the oven and cook, stirring occasionally for 60min. Cool completely, then store in an airtight container at room temperature.


Notes:

- Check out this post for instructions on how to pop corn kernels on the stove, I love to use mushroom corn kernels for caramel corn.
- To wash all of your caramel covered bowls, spoons, and pots just soak them in really hot water and all of the sugar will just melt off.
-You can buy your own mushroom popcorn kernels here. I've ordered from JustPoppin.com quite a few times and their customer service is great, plus I really like their name.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Chocolate Almond Babka and a Trip to the Beach



When Autumn wrote so eloquently about how hard it is to make friends as an adult I nodded my head in agreement and when she quietly questioned the value of blogging and what it has brought to her life I shook it even harder. It's easy to sit back and read other people's words and comment and admire them from afar, but at what point can you consider them friends?

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I am someone who likes to have a lot of time to myself. The reason I stayed at my last job long after I should have was that it offered me hours and hours of alone time every afternoon, but now that I've been away from that job for a few months, I find myself with more time than I know what to do with. It's not that I don't enjoy it, but as I've gotten a bit older I've assigned more value to making meaningful connections with other folks. 

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You may have seen Ariele's beautiful wood work or Amélie's clever letterpress baseball cards around the internet. I'll try not to sound like a gushing fan girl here, but when I saw their work for the first time I was so surprised and delighted. Yes, I know that sounds terribly cheesy, but I can't think of any other words to describe how happy I was to see two talented gals busting ass to make their living as artists.

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After a few months of internet friendship and lots of commenting back and forth, it was decided that a meeting of the minds was in order, a blind friendship date if you will. We chose a time and I promised to bring the snacks. When I saw a swirled chocolate babka by way of Eating for England I knew I had found the perfect tea time treat. I consulted my bread guy (Peter Reinhart) for his recipe and ended up with this delicately sweet and super chocolatey bread. I packed it up in a tea towel to contain all of the delicious streusel crumbs and made my way to Ariele's incredible studio/apartment. We chatted and drank tea and when I got to see their work in the flesh, it did not disappoint.

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We spent the afternoon talking about about all sorts of things and when someone mentioned Dead Horse Bay my ears (probably my whole face too) perked right up. I had heard of the place, but had never been. We decided that the next day's spring-like weather demanded a trip!

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This isn't a beach for sunbathing and frisbee tossing. It's the kind of beach that requires sturdy shoes and gloves. You see, Dead Horse Bay is the former site of a horse rendering plant, turned 19th century landfill, turned playground for "junk" loving treasure hunters. The beach is littered with piles and piles of beautiful glass bottles, bits of tiles and Amélie even found an old rusted gun and a toy cowboy boot in close proximity to one another. I came home with some glass bottles to add to my collection and some porcelain light sockets that I repurposed into candle sticks.

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As we walked along the beach picking up and kicking up treasures, yelling to each other when we found something exceptionally cool, I felt like I was anywhere but New York. The smell of the sea air was comforting, the sun was shining bright and warm and I was spending time with two awesome ladies I knew from the internet and had only met in person the day before.



I knew immediately that I wanted to go back. I've already planned another trip.

Chocolate Almond Babka
adapted from Peter Reinhart

For the Dough

2T instant yeast
6oz lukewarm milk
3oz room temperature butter
3oz sugar
1oz vegetable oil
1t vanilla extract
4 egg yolks
15oz all purpose flour
.25oz salt
1 egg + 1T water for egg wash

For the Filling

9oz finely chopped bittersweet chocolate
4oz sliced almonds
1t cinnamon
2oz cold butter

For the Topping (optional, but advised)
The original recipe called for 2x this amount of topping, but I could only get about half of it to stick to the bread so if you really want to go for it with the crumbs feel free to double these amounts

1oz butter
.75 oz all purpose flour
.5 oz almond meal
2oz brown sugar
pinch cinnamon
pinch salt

For the Bread

1. Whisk the yeast and milk together. Set aside while you prepare the other ingredients
2. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. I made this entire recipe by hand with a wooden spoon, but you could use a hand or stand mixer instead.
3. Add in the oil and vanilla, then add the egg yolks in one at a time, mixing until each yolk is thoroughly incorporated. Mix for 2 min or until the eggs are light and fluffy.
4. Stop mixing, then add the flour and salt, followed by the milk and yeast mixture. Mix slowly until the dough comes together, if you are mixing by hand, your hands are the best tool for this job.
5. Turn the dough out onto a floured board and knead for 2 min. The dough should be soft, supple and golden in color. Place the dough in a well oiled bowl covered with plastic wrap and let rise for 2 1/2hrs or until the dough almost doubles in size. At this point you can finish the bread or let the dough rest in the refrigerator over night. I let mine rest.

For the Filling

Combine the chopped chocolate, almonds and cinnamon in a large bowl. Add the butter and mix with your fingers or a pastry cutter until the mixture resembles streusel.

To Assemble the Loaf

1. Grease a 9''x5'' or 10''x5'' loaf pan and line with parchment paper so it hangs over the two long sides. Once the dough has risen, roll it into a 15''x15'' square on a lightly floured surface. The dough should be about 1/4'' thick. Sprinkle the chocolate and almond filling over the dough, leaving a 1/2'' border around the edges.
2. Roll the dough like a jelly roll and place it seam side down on your work surface. Gently roll the dough back and forth until it is about 20'' long.
3. Fold the dough in half to form a "U" shape. Twist the arms of the dough two or three times around each other to form the loaf, then pinch the seams together. This post has a photo of a formed loaf. Place the dough into the prepared pan. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room until the babka fills the pan, 1-2 hours.

While the loaf is rising

Preheat oven to 350º

Prepare the Streusel and Finish the Loaf

1. Combine all of the streusel ingredients with your hands until the mixture resembles cornmeal.
2. When the loaf has risen completely, brush with egg wash made from 1 egg +1T water and sprinkle the streusel mixture over the top. Use a toothpick to poke a few holes in the top of the loaf which will release any air pockets trapped between the folds of the dough and filling.
3. Place the loaf pan onto a baking sheet and slide into the oven. Bake for 20-25min, then rotate and bake for 20-30 more minutes. The loaf will be deep golden brown on top and sound hollow when the bottom is tapped when finished. You can also use a thermometer to check the internal temperature which will be 185º when the loaf is finished.

Cool the loaf to room temperature before slicing.

p.s. I recently listened to a TED talk by Susan Cain about the power of introverts, about how our society is built for extroverts to succeed and receive praise. While I don't agree with everything she has to say, I think it is worth a listen.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Chocolate Irish Cream Candies


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Due to the unseasonably warm temps we've been enjoying in NY, Spring cleaning (and picnic season!) is starting a little early in Apt 2B. I like to take Spring cleaning nice and slow so I usually start with the pantry/kitchen where I am guaranteed to find all kinds of fun (ugh, and not so fun) things hiding. My first discovery this year was a sad, half empty bottle of Baileys from who knows when that I revived into these seasonally appropriate chocolate candies. I invited a pal to enjoy them with me in the park over a game or two of Bananagrams. It was warm and breezy and everything was perfect until a pair of dudes and their techno music ruined our sun soaked afternoon, but I digress. These sweet and salty treats require a candy thermometer to make, but I'd say they're pretty low on the difficulty scale. Just dump the first 5 ingredients into a big pot and cook them until they're good and hot, add some chocolate, sprinkle some salt and they're done. Texture wise, I'd put these candies somewhere between fudge and caramels; firm from the chocolate and soft and chewy from the cooked sugar.

Chocolate Irish Cream Candies
adapted from Vanilla Garlic

1c heavy cream
1/2c Irish Cream liquor
1 1/2c sugar
1 1/2c golden syrup (or corn syrup)
1t salt
9oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped finely
1t flaky salt for sprinkling (optional)

1. Line a 9x9 pan with a piece of parchment paper or aluminum foil and grease well.
2. In a large, heavy bottomed combine the heavy cream, Irish Cream, sugar and corn syrup. Over medium high heat bring the mixture to a boil and cook until it reaches 250º (or 248º for slightly softer candies). Remove from heat and let cool for 5min.
3. Stir in the chopped chocolate and pour into the prepared pan. Smooth the top and sprinkle with flaky salt if desired.
4. Cool completely and cut into 1'' cubes with a sharp, hot knife. In between cuts I run my knife under hot tap water then dry it off and slice. Wrap in parchment or waxed paper squares and keep the candies in an airtight container to store.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Orange Almond Upside Down Cake

I've been taking myself on more adventures lately. Nothing big or fancy, just a short jaunt every now and then to somwhere I've never been before.  I love this city, but the Northwesterner in me longs for more green stuff and fresh(er) air.

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I had the afternoon free last Friday and a new camera to test out so I grabbed some film, a snack and hopped an uptown train to visit Fort Tryon Park and The Cloisters at the upper tip of Manhattan. The Cloisters house a collection of medieval art and architecture including some damn fine unicorn tapestries and beautiful gardens full of trees and plants depicted in the art. Pretty neat stuff. 


It was cold and bright that day. When I got off of the train I noticed here were very few other people in the park, save a class of kids having lunch and a grounds keeper or two. The quiet was nice and I wandered through the park, following all of the stairways and paths I came across until I got to the museum. 

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Admittedly, winter wasn't the best time to visit as there wasn't much going on, but there were signs of spring popping up in the form of crocuses and hyacinths spread throughout the enclosed courtyards. There were even a few citrus trees (maybe mandarins of some sort?) full of fruit in varying stages of ripeness.


It was a wonderful, inspiring afternoon and on my way back through Fort Tryon Park I walked slowly and savored a juicy Sumo Mandarin and let my mind wander a little bit. I'll be sure to visit later in the Spring and Summer when things are a bit greener and to see the fig, quince, and apple trees heavy with fruit.

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With the scent of citrus oils on my hands, I thought all of the way home about baking something light and orangey. I knew this simple gluten free cake I spotted on Simple Bites a few weeks ago and was the perfect thing to cap off the day.


Orange Almond Upside Down Cake
adapted from Simple Bites

For the Topping

1 thinly sliced navel orange
2T butter
1/3c sugar

For the Cake

8oz soft butter
8oz sugar
8oz finely ground almonds
3 eggs
1t vanilla extract
2T lemon juice
zest of 2 lemons
zest of 1 orange
3oz fine cornmeal
1t baking powder
1/2t salt

Preheat oven to 325º. Grease and line a 9'' cake pan with parchment paper. I obviously didn't line my pan and the cake stuck a bit, not too bad, but not good either. So don't be like me, line your pan.

For the Topping

In a medium skillet melt the butter then add the sugar. Over medium heat, cook for 1 minute. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan, then arrange the sliced oranges on top of the butter/sugar mixture in a single layer. You may have to slice your slices in half for this.

For the Cake

1. In the bowl of a standing mixer, or with an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, about 3min. Add the almonds and mix thoroughly.
2. Add in the eggs one at a time followed by vanilla, zests, and lemon juice.
3. Fold in the cornmeal, baking powder and salt making sure to scrape the bottom of the bowl to ensure that the batter is mixed well.
4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Slide into the oven and bake for 40-45min or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan for 10min, then invert onto a plate or platter to cool completely. Serve warm or at room temp.

Notes:

- This blog is a great resource for fun day trips from NYC that are accessible by subway, train and car: nycitycures.com
- The Cloisters Gardeners keep a blog too: The Medieval Gardens Enclosed

Friday, March 2, 2012

Nibby Bittersweet Brownies



I never know what to say when people ask about my favorite thing to bake. I usually just spout out the first thing that comes to mind because the truth is, I don't have an answer, I love it all. I enjoy the time, technique and concentration it takes to put together a layer cake or multi component dessert, but I also love how easy it is to throw together a batch of cookies or a pan of brownies. Especially these brownies that have caused men and women all over the country to declare them the best ever. I'm not one for hyperbole, but I can say that I've baked a lot of brownies and these certainly are my brownie ideal. They are dark and fudgy with a crackly top and a little crunch from the cacao nibs and they ship really, really well if you have some far away friends in need of a pick me up. Have a great weekend you guys!

Nibby Bittersweet Brownies
adapted from Alice Medrich

8oz chopped bittersweet chocolate
3oz unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1c sugar
3 eggs
1t vanilla extract
heaping 1/4t salt
1.75 oz (1/3c plus 1T) flour
1/4c cacao nibs (optional)
1/2t flaky salt to sprinkle on top (optional)

Preheat oven to 350º and line the bottom and sides of an 8x8 or 9x9 pan with foil and grease lightly

1. Put the chopped chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, stir occasionally until the chocolate and butter are completely melted.
2. In a separate bowl whisk together the sugar, eggs, vanilla and salt until the mixture is lighter in color, about 3min.
3. Pour the melted chocolate mixture into the eggs and whisk to combine, then fold in the flour and 2T of the cacao nibs. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle with the remaining 2T of cacao nibs and flaky salt if desired. Slide into the oven and bake until a toothpick inserted into the brownies comes out clean, 25-30min. Cool completely before cutting into squares.

p.s. I love eating these brownies cold, straight from the fridge.
p.p.s. Thank you so much for the enthusiastic response to my Ombre Cake, in just 2 days it is already the most popular post on the blog, by a long shot.