Sunday, December 29, 2013

Banana Caramel Cream Pie


If there's one dessert that conjures up childhood memories for me it's gotta be banana cream pie.  How do I begin to describe my Mother's banana cream pie? How do you describe something that transports you to nirvana?  My sister especially loved this pie, so much so that she asked for it on her birthday instead of cake.

On one ill fated birthday my mother was busy in the kitchen whipping up two banana cream masterpieces.  And I was there to witness it.  First there was the dough, super flaky and tender.  Everything had to be cold, bowls, flour, Crisco, ice water.  And once made, into the Frigidaire to chill perfectly before rolling.  

Next came the cream: egg yolks, milk, sugar, flour, vanilla extract.  Five simple ingredients with a synergetic effect.  Today we call it pastry cream, Mom just referred to it as pudding.  There was a lot of stirring involved and adjusting the flame and testing for the right consistency.  

And bananas, ripe but not too ripe.  These she would carefully slice on the diagonal, and I didn't question her.  Of course the meringue on top was the real ball buster.  There are a lot of pit falls when it comes to making meringue and Mom was determined not to end up in any of them.  She may have banished me from the kitchen at this point so I wouldn't mess up her meringue mojo because I don't have a good memory of this part, but whatever she did it came out airy and perfect toasted.

Once the two perfect pies were done she put them on a small TV table on on the back porch just off the kitchen.  And that's when it happened. 

A strong breeze, the neighbor's cat, the weight of two perfect banana cream pies on an old rickety TV table, whatever it was, the pies ended up in a heap on the floor.  I was devastated!  I'd been salivating over these pies all day!  Mom was also devastated but only for as long as it took her to realize what she had to do.  There was pie to make for someone's birthday and that someone was going to be home from babysitting very soon.

There was pie for birthday dessert later that night.  It wasn't banana cream, it was apple, but it was damn good anyway.  What follows is not Mom's recipe for banana cream pie but the spirit is there and tasting this pie with my family this past Christmas day more than makes up for those two other pies.  At one point I turned around to see everyone with a fork in the pie plate! When I tell you they were fighting (in a friendly way) over the last piece, well lets just say that's the thing that memories are made of.

banana caramel cream pie

crust:
1 & 1/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2 teaspoons raw cane sugar

1/4 cup cold butter, cut into tiny pieces

1/4 cup vegetable shortening

3-4 tablespoons ice water (or enough to from dough)


In a food processor add flour and sugar; pulse to mix.  Add butter and shortening and pulse until mixture resembles course meal.  Add water a little at a time and pulse until dough forms.  Wrap and chill for at least 1 hour.


Roll dough on a lightly floured surface to about 14 inches.  Fold dough in half and transfer to a 12 inch pie plate.  Fit the dough snugly into the plate, roll the edges underneath until they meet the rim of the plate.  Crimp the edges to secure.  Dock the bottom of the pie shell with a fork so steam can escape while baking and chill for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Put the pie shell on a baking pan. Fit a sheet of tin foil or a disposable pie pan into the plate and weigh it down with beans or pie weights.  Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown.  Set aside until ready to fill.

caramel: 

1 & 1/2 cups white sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup butter, cut up
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Heat the heavy cream (I usually use the microwave) just to take the chill off it and set aside. In a medium, heavy bottomed pot heat the sugar on medium high, swirling the pot occasionally. Keep an eye on it as the sugar melts. If you find that sugar crystals have collected on the side of the pot use a damp pastry brush to clean them off. You might have to help it along with a wooden spoon or a heat proof spatula but the less you touch it the better. 

Once the sugar melts it will start to turn a light golden color and than a bright amber and it will smell like creme brulee. I wish I could tell you what mark to look for on a candy thermometer, but honestly I've never made this with one.  

Lower the heat to medium and add the butter. Whisk until the butter is mixed in, it's going to fight you but just keep whisking gently. Once the butter is incorporated add the heavy cream and stand back as the mixture will bubble up. Whisk again until all the cream is mixed in. 

Remove from the heat and add vanilla extract. Pour into a heat proof container and cool. Once cool it can be covered and stored in the fridge until ready to use. Makes about 2 cups of caramel.  (Reserve left overs for other recipes.)

pastry cream: (my friend Vinny's recipe)

1/4 cup sugar
1 &1/4  plus 1/3 cups half and half
2 & 1/2  tablespoons corn starch
3 yolks
1 & 1/2 tablespoons butter, cut up
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a medium, heavy bottomed pot whisk together sugar and 1 & 1/2 cups half and half.  Bring the mixture to a boil on medium heat stirring occasionally.  In a medium bowl whisk together 1/3 cup half and half and corn starch, set aside. 

Once the half and half has come to a boil lower the heat.  Pour half of the mixture into the bowl with the corn starch and whisk until combined. Add the egg yolks and whisk in.  Pour this mixture back into the pot and cook on low, stirring constantly  and occasionally scraping the bottom of the pot with a heat proof spatula, until thickens.  

When the pastry cream has thickened, remove from the heat and whisk in the butter.  Lastly add the vanilla.  Transfer to a shallow bowl and cover directly with plastic warp (or butter wrappers if you have any).  Chill for 1 hour before using.

meringue and assembly:

3/4 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 cup egg whites
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2-3 bananas
1/2 cup caramel
1 batch pastry cream
1 pre-baked pie shell 

Spread caramel on bottom of pre-baked shell.  Slice bananas and layer on top of caramel.  Top with pastry cream.

In a stand mixer fitted with a wire whisk, combine egg whites and cream of tartar.  Mix on low to combine, then mix on high until foamy.  Add the vanilla.  Slowly add the sugar.  Continue mixing on high until meringue is thick.  

Transfer to a pastry bag with a star tip.  Pipe rosettes over the top of the pie.  Toast meringue under the broiler, turning as necessary, being super careful not to burn anything, including yourself!








Sunday, December 22, 2013

Caramel Dandies


You have room for one more cookie, right?  This one's a doozy, a cream cheese dough, caramel filling, dipped in chocolate and finished with toasted coconut.  Sure, there's wrapping and more shopping and visiting and getting the house ready for guests, but you know you want to make these because they aren't the kind you usually find on your typical Christmas cookie tray. 

If you love those Girl Scout samoas you will be in heaven when you taste these.  We were trying to think of a name and my sister said they reminded her of a confection more than a cookie.  So I thought confection... candy... dandy!  And there you have it.

This is my go-to dough for decorated cookies and jam filled cookies, so when I make it I make a double batch, but feel free to cut the recipe in half.  However, it does keep in the fridge for a week or in the freezer for a month so it's not a bad thing to have on hand especially this time of year.  

The caramel filling is super easy and it's also a good item to have around (spoiler alert: banana caramel cream pie for Christmas).  We all know how to melt chocolate, so that part's covered, just sprinkle with toasted coconut and voila! you have a special cookie sure to become everybody's  fave.

caramel dandies

caramel

1 & 1/2 cups white sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup butter, cut up
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Heat the heavy cream (I usually use the microwave) just to take the chill off it and set aside. In a medium, heavy bottomed pot heat the sugar on medium high, swirling the pot occasionally. Keep an eye on it as the sugar melts. If you find that sugar crystals have collected on the side of the pot use a damp pastry brush to clean them off. You might have to help it along with a wooden spoon or a heat proof spatula but the less you touch it the better. 

Once the sugar melts it will start to turn a light golden color and than a bright amber and it will smell like creme brulee. I wish I could tell you what mark to look for on a candy thermometer, but honestly I've never made this with one.  

Lower the heat to medium and add the butter. Whisk until the butter is mixed in, it's going to fight you but just keep whisking gently. Once the butter is incorporated add the heavy cream and stand back as the mixture will bubble up. Whisk again until all the cream is mixed in. 

Remove from the heat and add vanilla extract. Pour into a heat proof container and cool. Once cool it can be covered and stored in the fridge until ready to use. Makes about 2 cups of caramel.  (Reserve left overs for other recipes.)

cookie dough (enough for 2 batches)

1 cup butter (room temperature)
5 tablespoons cream cheese (room temperature)
1 cup white sugar
1 small egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 & 1/2 cup unbleached white flour 

In a stand mixer, cream butter and cream cheese.  Add sugar, yolk and vanilla.  Mix on low to combine, scrap the bowl and beaters as needed.   Add flour and mix on low until dough forms.  Gather dough into two balls, flatten and wrap.  Chill for at least one hour or up to a week. (One pack is enough for 32 cookies.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Take out 1 pack of dough and cut in half.  Working with one half at a time (keep the other half chilled if it's a warm day, or warm in your kitchen), roll dough on lightly floured surface to about 1/8 inch thick.

Using a round cookie cutter (I used a 1 & 1/4 inch cutter), cut out as many cookies as you can from the dough. The dough can be re-rolled twice.  Place cookies on parchment lined cookie sheet about 1 inch apart.  In half of the cookies cut out another, smaller circle in the center for the top cookie (I used a small decorating tip).  

Bake cookies for 5 minutes.  Spin the trays and bake for another 5 to 6 minutes or until they are lightly golden around the edges.  (At 1/8 inch thick they tend to bake really quickly.)  Makes enough for about 32 cookies.

assembly

baked cookies (tops and bottoms)
caramel
1 cup toasted coconut
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate

Spread the bottom cookies with about 1/2 teaspoon caramel (microwave to a spreadable consistency if necessary) and top with center cut out cookies.

Chop chocolate and melt either in the microwave on low, or on the top of a double boiler over simmering water.  Dip half of the filled cookie in chocolate and place on parchment line cookie sheet. Before chocolate cools sprinkle with toasted coconut. 









Friday, December 20, 2013

Sourdough Popovers


If revenge is a dish best served cold than it's not popovers.  Popovers are best eaten right out of the oven or no more than 5 minutes after.  This might explain why I was never a fan of them. True, right out of the oven they are a treat unlike anything else, a fleeting and ephemeral treat, crusty on the outside and barely there on the inside, thus able to take on any kind of filling you like, from butter to chicken stew.  But wait five minutes and the popover loses all its best qualities.

Of course, we're not talkin regular popovers today.  Today we are talkin 'bout Sourdough Popovers.  Because this month's Sourdough Surprise is popovers.  And a sourdough  popover is a whole other animal.  While they are still crusty on the outside, somehow the inside is soft and doughy and the whole thing has a more complex, pleasingly tangy flavor.

I used the King Arthur flour recipe suggested in the Sourdough Surprises post.  I followed the recipe exactly (which I almost never do) so no need to re-post here. And did they ever pop over.  I don't know if it's because I have a convection oven, but even the popped part popped!  I must admit they were delightful right from the oven with a smear of butter and a spoonful of blueberry preserves.  And later in the day I gave them a re-heat and they made the perfect accompaniment for juicy roast chicken.

Once again I have to thank Sourdough Surprises for opening my eyes to new culinary vistas.  I will definitely be making these again.  I would love to make an herb and cheese version in mini muffin tins for some quick hor d'eouvers or a chocolate popover to warm up those cold winter mornings!
 





Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Apricot Almond Bird's Nest Cookies


I first read about the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap last year on  The Gingered Whisk blog and immediately got on the mailing list for this year's swap.  I thought it was a great way to contribute to a wonderful cause; foster good will among bloggers; and, of course, receive dozens of cookies in the mail!

The deal is you bake 3 dozen cookies, mail them to three bloggers and in return you get a dozen cookies from 3 other bloggers. Genius!  It was all fun and games until I sat down and really thought about the logistics of the whole thing.  Baking, photographing, warping, mailing- this was going to take some planning.

Happily Lindsay and Julie, the bloggers behind the Cookie Swap, provided some excellent, and I do mean excellent, tips on how to have a positive swap experience.  They covered every step of the process, and this gave me a whole lot of confidence.  The only thing they couldn't do for me was pick the cookie I was going to bake.

Luckily I had that part covered.  After going back and forth between countless cookies,  I finally decided on apricot almond bird's nest cookies.  I knew my cookie had to hit that sweet spot on the Venn diagram of yummy, beautiful and totally mail proof.  I felt these cookies would  do the trick. 

I've been making bird's nest cookies for a long time, often changing out the nuts and/or jam.  This time around I went for almonds and apricot, but they are just as good with walnuts and raspberry, pecans and strawberry, almonds and raspberry... you get the idea, they're all fantastic.  


apricot almond bird's nest cookies

1 & 1/2 cups soft butter
1 cup sugar
2 yolks 
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 cups unbleached white AP flour
2 egg whites
1 & 1/2 cups ground slivered almonds
1 cup apricot preserves (more or less)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a stand mixer cream butter and sugar until fluffy, scraping down the bowl and beaters as necessary.  Add yolks and vanilla and mix in.
Whisk baking powder into flour and add to butter mixture in a couple of additions, scraping the bowl and beaters as necessary, until dough forms.
In a small bowl whisk the eggs whites and set aside.  Put a small amount of almonds in another bowl and set aside.
  
Working in small batches, scoop dough in rounded teaspoonfuls and roll into a smooth ball with hands.  Dip a couple of balls at a time in egg whites and then in almonds. (Don't put all the almonds in the bowl, use just enough for a few cookies and refill as needed). 

Place on parchment lined cookie sheet leaving two inches between each  cookie.  Make a small indent in each cookie and fill with about 1/2 teaspoon apricot preserves.  Bake for 12-14 minutes or until cookies have puffed up and are lightly golden.

 



Of course, that's not the end of the story...

No sooner had I arrived home from the post office when a box appeared on my door step.  Wow, talk about instant gratification!  My first cookie swap-back: a dozen Browned Butter White Chocolate Cranberry Cashew Oatmeal cookies from Brianne at Cupcakes & Kale Chips.  I couldn't open it fast enough and take a bite of these fully loaded treats!  They were just like oatmeal cookies in that they were not like any other oatmeals.  After tasting these, other oatmeal cookies are just going to seem like they're missing something!   I absolutely adore cashews and you hardly ever see them in cookies.  I wanted to eat them all, but in the end I shared.  Thank you Brianne. 


And then there was the box of Salted Toffee Crunch cookies from Brittney over at Kitchenette!  A tender delight of pretzels, toffee and almonds.  Yes, you heard me right.  Pretzels.  Toffee.  And almonds.  Yes, yes, and yes!  Thank you Brittney, I took these cookies to work and everyone adored them.  Do I need to mention I was everyone's favorite person that day!




And lastly, but certainly not leastly, came the festively packaged Salted Caramel Hot Cocoa cookies from Susan at The Foodette.  Holy beejeezus, were these ever uber yummy!  It was like a chocolate cookie and a brownie got married and had a honeymoon in Fiji!  I had two before I even showed my dear hubby! 


My new waist line aside, I have to say that this was the most fun I ever had with cookies, and I can't wait to sign up again next year!

The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap 2013