Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Paleo Chocolate Pudding

I often look to paleo recipes because they are pretty close to how we eat. However paleo allows for more natural sugar than I usually eat, often using copious amounts of maple syrup or honey. So I'm often focusing on the subsection of lower sugar paleo desserts and baked goods.

Two weeks ago, cookbook for my unread cookbook shelf project was The Paleo Chocolate Lover's Cookbook. In it, I found this pudding recipe with only five ingredients, all of which I had on hand, so I knew it would be an easy one to try. Ultimately my conclusion is that my blender does not as finely as one would want for the right texture, as my finished pudding had chunks of date in it, but it was still fairly tasty, and definitely the right consistency apart from the chunks. This is not a low-sugar dessert, but does qualify as paleo if that's your thing.

Paleo Chocolate Pudding

1 cup unsweetened almond milk
1 cup canned full-fat coconut milk
4 large, soft, pitted Medjool dates
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped, seeds reserved
3 oz dark chocolate, roughly chopped

  1. In a blender or food processor, puree the almond milk, coconut milk, dates and vanilla bean until completely smooth. The mixture will probably separate, but that's okay.
  2. Transfer the mixture to a small saucepan, and bring it to a simmer, watching carefully so that it doesn't boil over.
  3. Reduce the heat, and simmer for 10 minutes, whisking frequently.
  4. Turn off the heat, and add the chocolate. Stir until the chocolate is melted and incorporated into the pudding.
  5. Ladle the pudding into bowls, and serve it warm or cold. It will be thicker after refrigerating.
Makes 2-4 servings, depending on the size of the bowls. 

Cookbook notes: I also made the banana chocolate pancakes (not quite sweet enough and did not hold together well in the pan), which I won't post, and previously made the raspberry chocolate clafoutis in 2015. The recipe I wish I'd had time to try making was the paleoleos (similar to oreos) but was discouraged by the fact that I couldn't get my hands on one of the ingredients needed for the filling, and in seeing they had to be stored in the fridge.

All the recipes are depending on a core set of paleo ingredients - coconut milk, Medjool dates, cocoa powder, etc. I find this to be somewhat limiting and would have liked to see a slightly less narrow focus. The heavy use of coconut is surely going to decrease in popularity as the years go by, and when it does, this one will feel pretty irrelevant. Texture is sometimes sacrificed for the paleo ingredients but anyone trying to bake this way will not be that shocked! There is a distinct attempt to do more than just basic recipes, to offer some fancy yet still paleo recipes, and this is something I definitely appreciate. Interested bakers should note that chocolate is not always the central flavor, and white chocolate is given some attention as well. Because I love chocolate, I really only seriously considered the chocolate focused recipes.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Finnish Cardamom Braid (Pulla)

Last week, I posted Apricot Diamonds from the same cookbook this recipe comes from, The Winter Vegetarian. It was my cookbook for last week's focus for my year-long unread cookbook shelf project. Comments about the cookbook overall will be at the end.

Pulla is a Finnish sweet bread with cardamom. It has a similar texture to challah, with the addition of vanilla and cardamom. It came together quickly and ended up being pretty forgiving (I suspected I didn't add quite enough flour.) There are a lot of grandmothers in YouTube who will demonstrate two ways of braiding the bread - one uses three strands and the more traditional seem to use four. For simplicity, I went with three.

Pulla was delicious in slices, toasted, with butter and orange marmalade (because, you know, orange and cardamom are magical mystery twins.) It would have made good french toast too!

This recipe makes three loaves, but they freeze well. I brought two to work and kept one home.

Finnish Cardamom Bread (Pulla)

2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
1/4 cup lukewarm water
1 tsp plus 3/4 cup sugar
2 cups lukewarm milk*
1 tsp salt
2 tsp ground cardamom (from about 32 pods)*
12 tbsp (1 1/2 sticks) salted butter, melted*
4 eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten
7-8 cups unbleached white flour

1 egg white, lightly beaten until frothy
3 tbsp sliced almonds*
3 tbsp pearl sugar or coarsely crushed sugar cubes

Dissolve the yeast in the water with 1 tsp of sugar until bubbly. Stir in the milk, remaining 3/4 cup sugar, salt, cardamom, melted butter, eggs, and 4 cups of the flour. Beat well. Gradually add just enough flour to form a soft dough. Turn out onto a floured board and knead until the dough is stmooth and elastic, about 10 minutes.

Place the dough in a large greased bowl, turning to grease the top. Cover and leave to rise until doubled, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Punch down the dough and let rise again until nearly doubled, about 1 hour.

Divide the dough into three pieces. Divide each piece into three balls of equal size. Roll each ball out between your hands into a rope about 12 inches long. Braid three ropes together, turning the ends under. Place the loaf on a lightly greased baking sheet (you will need two sheets). Repeat with the remianing dough. Cover the loaves and leave them to rise until slightly puffy, 20 to 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Brush the loaves with the beaten egg white, then sprinkle each with 1 tbsp of almonds and 1 tbsp of pearl sugar. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until nicely browned.

*Notes from JennyBakes: I used buttermilk because I had some I needed to use up. I didn't notice until typing this up that I was supposed to use salted butter, so I probably should have added salt as I don't keep salted butter on hand. I did not sprinkle almonds on the loaves before baking; I was worried they would burn. I used ground cardamom and did not grind it fresh from cardamom pods!

The Winter Vegetarian by Darra Goldstein
Cookbook notes: The sticker on the front of this said it came from Half Price Books, which means I bought it used when I lived in Indiana, sometime between 2001-2006. It was published in 1996, and was also published under the title The Vegetarian Hearth. Darra Goldstein has written Russian and Georgian cookbooks previously (Georgia the country, not the state), so many or most of the recipes in this cookbook come from a Russian and Eastern European background. I wanted to focus on this one while it was still winter since so many of the recipes seem quite heavy. Back when I was trying to have a cooking blog, I made the mushroom coulibiac, and I believe that was the only recipe I'd made from this cookbook in 15 years.

This time around, I marked more recipes than I got to. I bought all the ingredients for mushroom dumplings except couldn't find mushroom broth, and it wasn't a realistic weeknight dish, so the mushrooms went bad, whoops. I did make the turnip gratin but not the rutabaga pudding, another Finnish recipe. I tried making the sweet cheese pancakes (syrniki) but I feel I must have done something wrong as they weren't a great texture. I would have liked to make the blini and more of the sweets, but the majority of recipes in this book for regular food are too rich and too heavy for how we usually eat! But you never know until you try.

Monday, February 05, 2018

Apricot Diamonds

This is the first of two recipes I'll post from this past week's cookbook focus, The Winter Vegetarian. I'll save my broader comments for next week! All that's important here is that this recipe is simple, can be made into practically any flavor depending on the jam you like best, and the cookies are tasty. I rewrote the recipe in my own words, because this recipe is so simple I could still remember the ingredients it called for.

Apricot Diamonds

2 sticks butter, or 1 cup, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup apricot jam

1. Preheat oven to 375 F.
2. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 4-5 minutes.
3. Mix in egg yolks and vanilla. Scrape down as needed.
4. Add flour and mix just until blended. The dough may not be completely cohesive and this is okay.
5. Dump 1/2-2/3 of the dough into a 9x13 pan and press down to make an even crust. 
6. Drop spoonfuls of the jam onto the crust and spread out as evenly as possible.
7. Crumble the rest of the dough on to the jam and spread evenly. It can help to press some together in flat pieces, but I found that just dumping and lightly spreading, pressing down into the jam, worked just fine.
8. Bake 25-30 minutes or until browning along the edges.
9. Cut into diamonds and serve.

If you don't know how to cut into diamonds, there are a bunch of videos on YouTube with grandmas who have their own cooking channels, showing you how to cook bars into diamonds. 

Monday, January 29, 2018

Grapefruit Buttermilk Cake

This past year I have had major grapefruit cravings, even eating them the way I eat oranges, peeling segment by segment. But I don't tend to think of grapefruit in baked goods, as it isn't really very sweet. So I was intrigued by the idea of this cake and knew I would need to make it. For the cookbook it comes from, scroll down to the bottom of this post. One co-worker called this cake a "keeper," and I thought it was delicious.

Grapefruit Buttermilk Cake
(Recipe from Wintersweet)

1 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp finely grated grapefruit zest
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup buttermilk

1/3 cup freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
1/3 cup granulated sugar

1 tbsp freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar

Preheat the oven to 325 F. Butter a 9 1/2 x 5 1/2 inch loaf pan. Tear out a sheet of parchment paper. Fold it in half or thirds so that it can lie inside the whole width of the pan, ends hanging over the long sides of the pan. This paper hammock makes it easier to lift the cake out of the pan later.

FOR THE CAKE, mix the sugar with the grapefruit zest in a small bowl. Rub the mixture together with your fingers so the zest releases its oils.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter with the sugar mixture until fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well and scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.  Add the vanilla and mix again.

Sift the flour, baking soda, and salt into a medium bowl. Add one third of the dry ingredients to the sugar mixture and mix on low speed just until combined. Alternate adding the buttermilk and the rest of the dry ingredients in halves to the sugar mixture, mixing until just combined and scraping down the sides of the bowl in between. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan.

Bake the cake for 55-60 minutes, or until the top is golden and puffed and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove the cake from the oven and let it cool for 10 minutes.

FOR THE SYRUP, combine the grapefruit juice and sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Boil the syrup for 1 minute and then remove it from the heat. With a toothpick or skewer, poke holes all over the top of the cooled cake. Pour the syrup over the cake, a little t a time, brushing it with a pastry brush to ensure even soaking. When all of the syrup has been added, let the cake cool completely. To remove the cake from the pan, lift up by the edges of the parchment paper.

FOR THE GLAZE, whisk together the grapefruit juice with the confectioners' sugar until smooth. You want the consistency to be loose enough to drizzle, but not so thin that it soaks into the cake. If it's too thin, add more sugar! If it's too thick, whisk in some water a few drops at a time. Drizzle the icing over the top of the cake with a whisk. The cake can be stored at room temperature, covered, for 2-3 days.

Notes from JennyBakes:
1. No need to limit the grapefruit zest to 1 tsp. I just used what I could easily get from the outside of one fruit. Also no need to rub the sugar and zest in another bowl, why not the mixing bowl, so you don't make another bowl dirty.
2. I found one grapefruit sufficient for all grapefruit parts required.
3. I added vanilla to the glaze as well.

This recipe comes from Wintersweet: Seasonal Recipes to Warm the Home by Tammy Donroe Inman, published in 2013. I believe I got this as a review copy from the publisher back then. I made two recipes from the cookbook at the time, one I loved and have made several times (cocoa pomegranate pavlova!). It's funny because I think of myself as "using this cookbook all the time," when in reality I just find myself drawn to it to flip through because of the gorgeous photography. It also relies on winter ingredients for baked goods, which is not only friendly for this time of year, but often even what you may normally have on hand in the pantry. I also have my eyes on the Spicy Mexican Chocolate Cake (which is gluten-free) and the Spicy Prune Cake with Penuche Frosting, which I may make tomorrow, since I bought prunes. Some of the seasonality of these recipes has already passed by, because cranberries have disappeared from the store post-holiday. I'll have to make a mental note that I never made that cranberry cobbler recipe....

As far as #theunreadshelfproject2018 goes, I am still glad to spend a week with this one, because it is clear it has untapped riches. But this is a keeper of a cookbook.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Writer's Block Oatmeal Raisin Cookies (and more on my 2018 cookbook project)

One of the big reading challenges to hit social media in 2018 is #theunreadshelfchallenge2018, where a bunch of bookish people are trying to read books on their shelves. This ranges from reader to reader, from exclusively only reading books they already own to trying to read more of them. For me, it manifested in attempting to go for 50/50 (which would be an increase of over 20%). I'm also working on a cookbook project where I spend each week with a different cookbook already in my collection. At the bottom of this post, I'll post the cookbook and reflect on the experience of cooking from it this week.

Writer's Block Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

1 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp water
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp allspice
2 cups rolled oats
1-2 cups raisins

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Gradually add sugar. Add eggs, vanilla, and water, and beat until smooth.

Sift dry ingredients together. Add to the butter mixture and mix well. Fold in oats and raisins.

Drop by spoonfuls onto a greased cookie sheet, leaving enough space for the cookies to spread. Bake 8-10 minutes, until golden. 


This recipe comes from Plenty: A Collection of Sarah McLachlan's Favorite Recipes, published in 1999, right after the high point of Lilith Fair and her very busy touring life. And actually it isn't her favorite recipes as much as it is the recipes chosen by her personal/tour chef. I had marked more recipes than I ended up making from this cookbook, because although the cookies were decent, the savory recipes I made were badly in need of updating into the 21st century. The cookbook apparently came out before they had even heard of olive oil! I made the curried orange lentil salad recipe exactly as described and it was awful; the lentils were overcooked and the raw onion was too strong (I already added half of what it said) and the water never fully drained so it was pretty liquid. On a day my husband and I were home due to snow cancellations, I sauteed some leftover kale and heated the lentils up, trying to salvage it as a soup. It was okay but too vinegary for a soup. AFter that two day fiasco I crossed off the vegetable curry from the recipes to try. It was going to be a lot more work and I wasn't convinced it would be worth it. I did make the creamy mushroom-sherry soup but hardly used the recipe as written. I replaced vegetable oil with olive. I used half the fat and half the flour called for. I used a variety of mushrooms and red wine instead of sherry, shallots instead of onion. It was delicious but I feel like I deserve the credit for that one. I made the chai recipe as described and it was weak. They didn't even have me roast the spices!

So this cookbook is probably one I can let go from my collection. But it had lingered on my shelves for over a decade before this past week.

I'm still a huge fan of Sarah McLachlan though, and this cookbook is a reference to her song Plenty, which is on my favorite Sarah album - Fumbling Towards Ecstasy, from 1993 (! whaaat, 1993? I'm old.)


Monday, January 15, 2018

Pineapple with Hazelnuts and Vanilla

Can you roast a fruit in the oven like you would a cut of meat? Apparently, you can. I was thumbing through One Knife, One Pot, One Dish: Simple French Feasts at Home by St├ęphane Reynaud and came across an interesting dessert. It called for making a caramel (my nemesis), then pouring it over a fresh pineapple, baking it in the oven, and basting it as it baked. I couldn't get the idea out of my head!

I thought the flavors were delicious and not too sweet. The nuts add a nice texture and roast alongside the pineapple. You can't just slice entire slices across the pineapple, it must be the outside, leaving the core, so just plan accordingly. I served my shards with the High Road Bourbon Brown Sugar ice cream, and that was a great pairing as the caramel also has alcohol.

Pineapple with Hazelnuts and Vanilla

Serves 4

1 good-looking pineapple
1 vanilla bean
7 tbsp (80 g) sugar
6 tbsp (3/4 stick/80 g) butter
2/3 cup (150 ml) rum
Generous 1/3 cup (50 g) hazelnuts

Preheat the oven to 300 F.

Peel the pineapple, heat the sugar over medium-high heat, without stirring, until the sugar melts into caramel, about 10 minutes.* If necessary, brush down any crystals that form on the side of the pot with a damp pastry brush.

Add the butter, rum, and vanilla bean pod and seeds. Stir to melt the butter and combine.

Place the pineapple in the Dutch oven, cover with the rum-flavored caramel, and add the hazelnuts.

Bake for 40 minutes, basting the pineapple with the caramel frequently during cooking, until it is tender, and then serve immediately.

*I don't believe sugar just melts down into caramel, so my interpretation of this step was letting the sugar cook a while until it was a medium-dark brown. It tasted okay so I think this works. When I added the butter and alcohol, everything seized up but I just kept stirring..... 


This post is sponsored by ABRAMS Books, as part of the ABRAMS Dinner Party. All experiences and opinions are my own!

Monday, January 08, 2018

Butterscotch Pots de Creme

 I made this recipe from a cookbook for which I received a digital review copy. More info at the bottom of the post!

Butterscotch Pots de Creme

4 tbsp butter
1 cup brown sugar, packed
4 cups heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
8 large egg yolks
sour cream
Butterfinger, crushed (optional)

1. Dump butter and sugar into a midsized saucepan and stir together over medium heat. Cook until mixture starts to brown and smoke ever so slightly, or about 15-20 minutes.
2. Slowly add the cream, a cup at a time. Cook butterscotch until any seized sugar dissolves again. Then add the rest of the cream, vanilla, and salt.
3. Next, whisk those yolks - and do not stop! Add some of the hot butterscotch cream while continuing to whisk. Once the yolks are warm to the touch, dump the yolks back into the pot of hot butterscotch and gently whisk.
4. Strain the mixture, and then crank the oven to 325 F.
5. Divide custard into the ramekins. Then place the ramekins in a water bath (fyi, water should be hot!) and loosely tent with foil.
6. Bake for 25-40 minutes, or until the pudding pots jiggle like a bowl full of jelly.
7. Finally, remove the pan from oven and cool completely. Fridge it for at least an hour - unless you like room-temp pudding, ya weirdo.

Chocolate sauce

2 oz dark-chocolate chips
3 tbsp heavy cream
pinch of salt

1. In a small saucepan, stir all ingredients together over low heat.

To assemble

Plop a spoonful of sour cream into each pudding pot, drizzle-whizzle with chocolate sauce, and sprinkle with crushed Butterfinger, if desired.

The recipe above comes verbatim from Sweet Revenge: Passive-Aggressive Desserts for Your Exes & Enemies by Heather Kim.  I made a few changes - first of all I cut the recipe in half (4 cups of cream?!). I used 6 oz custard cups because that's what I have, but I suspect from the yield and pictures that she intends you to use smaller ones - this is never specified, however. But because I used 6 oz cups I had to bake it longer than upper time limit given here. I may have slightly overbaked but the custard was not scrambled eggs. I also didn't bother with sour cream, butterfinger, or chocolate sauce - just put whipped cream and sprinkles. The flavors are intense and deep, not overly sweet, but rich.