Saturday, July 30, 2011

Breakfast in Sicily

Coffee Granita with Whipped Cream
Ever since I read Sweet Honey, Bitter Lemons: Travels in Sicily on a Vespa by Matthew Fort, my imagination has been running wild. Breakfast of fresh, warm brioche buns, torn apart and dipped into chilly coffee granita, topped with lightly sweetened whipped cream?

In fact, this so captured me that for a while I was thinking about starting a new international breakfast blog, featuring the amazing meals you can only find other places. It turns out that several people are doing that already, so I will leave them to it, as long as they leave the Sicilian breakfast of champions to me.

Sicilian Breakfast
The coffee granita recipe I used came from the aforementioned travel book, but any recipe that makes granita the slow way would do. The slow way being pouring liquid into a shallow container and scraping it with a fork every fifteen minutes until you have ice crystals that are almost in a mush texture, finely separated and not liquid at all, but delicate. This is what separates Sicilian granita from other mass-produced flavored-shaved ice varieties. Also from what I've read, you can find many varieties of granita at breakfast in Sicily - fruit flavors for instance - but I can't imagine anything better on a sunny morning than coffee granita!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Daring Bakers July 2011 - Fresh Fraisiers (Mûrier?)

Daring Bakers July 2011 - Fraisier
Jana of Cherry Tea Cakes was our July Daring Bakers’ host and she challenges us to make Fresh Frasiers inspired by recipes written by Elisabeth M. Prueitt and Chad Robertson in the beautiful cookbook Tartine.

Fraisiers are named after strawberries, and if a blackberry is la mûre in French, it is possible that I've actually made a mûrier here, but I can't be certain.

One of my co-workers and fellow foodies brought me some lavender from some organic fields in Utah, the kind intended for baking and cooking with. I adapted the recipe to infuse lavender into the pastry cream, and it was quite fragrant. My final product is a bit messy, but only because a fraisier depends on gelatin for that firmness and I keep trying to use agar agar in place of it. The last time I used it I let it set up too much, resulting in a slightly clumpy end product, and this time I think I erred on the opposite side, and my cream didn't entirely ever set up.

I made the coconut version of the cake, a lavender cream, and fresh blackberries. That combination also makes up a perfume combination I wear a lot in the summer, so it was a bit surreal creating a dessert with the same flavor/scent combination.

At the end of the day, this was absolutely delicious. I am not a person who is bothered by the flavor/smell of flowers in my food - I have embraced rose in baked goods and candy for years. I'm not sure it would be for everyone!! But it seemed perfect for summer.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Happy Blogiversary to Me!

Chocolate Cream Pie
Well, I can't really believe it, but this is the 5th anniversary of JennyBakes!

I'm on a brief break from work, with some vacation days to burn through before August 1 when it all rolls over, and today had a lazy day full of finishing season 4 of Brothers & Sister on Netflix and baking a pie. Now, most of the time, when celebrating such an event as a blogiversary, I of course would make something that I could serve to a lot of people. But I'm not going to be around a lot of people until next week, and ever since seeing this recipe for French silk chocolate pie on Serious Eats, I just haven't been able to get it out of my head. So today was the day, add sprinkles, and celebrate.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

French Broad Chocolates - Asheville, NC

Cold sipping chocolate
Imagine a serene chocolate lounge where you can sip chocolate drinks (or beer and wine, if you'd prefer), consume chocolate desserts, and munch on handcrafted chocolates. Imagine it has generous seating, vegan options, and is open as late (or later) than your favorite coffee shop.

It exists! I've been! The French Broad Chocolate Lounge in Asheville, NC, is it. Their extensive menu is amazing if not a bit overwhelming, since everything is chocolate. I was there on a very hot day and had the cold sipping chocolate, which blended dark chocolate, coconut milk, and an infusion of my choosing - I went with the chai one, and it was delicious.

In addition to their own chocolate creations, French Broad Chocolates sells artisan chocolates from a handful of small-batch producers. It is a place to go to more than once, in order to sample a wide variety of chocolatey treats.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Cookbook Review - Sweet & Skinny

Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Blackberries
When I first received a copy of Sweet & Skinny by Marisa Churchill, I will admit to being a bit skeptical. I have seen too many low-fat or low-calorie dessert cookbooks that take abundant advantage of tasteless items like Cool Whip Free and artificial sweeteners.

Instead, Marisa Churchill plays with texture and flavor and freshness and creates elegant, tasty desserts that you wouldn't even have to excuse to your guests.

I had my eye on several recipes in the cookbook that I plan to make at a later date, and was largely constrained by a feeling of seasonality, but damn if that pear and chocolate gingerbread upside down cake from the holiday section not call my name! The recipe I have dogeared to try in the not too distant future are the strawberry-black pepper meringues.

Deconstructed Key Lime Pie
I couldn't resist making two very summery, fresh tasting recipes from Sweet and Skinny. First I made the Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Berries. I used local blackberries I bought at a market in Brevard, NC, that were just dying to be treated with respect. I also finally accomplished my goal of substituting agar agar powder for gelatin with a good result. Gelatin is a pretty frequent ingredient recipe throughout the book to help with mouth feel without adding fat, but as a vegetarian I don't eat it. Luckily there are sea-vegetable substitutes.

The second recipe I made was the Deconstructed Key Lime Pie. I tweaked a few things there too, since I had a whole bottle of key lime juice, I went straight (and it was tart!). I don't miss the crust. Would anyone? I also just left the gelatin out of the egg whites for the topping, since I was going to be serving it right away.

I'm looking forward to making more out of this book, and adopting some of the tricks in some of my usual recipes.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Deepest Darkest Chocolate Cheesecake

Deepest Darkest Chocolate Cheesecake
After I saw Anne Thornton make this cheesecake on her new Food Network show Dessert First, I couldn't get it out of my head. As I was narrowing recipes down for my birthday, it kept rising to the top of my list, so I decided not to make "regular" cake this year, but to have cheesecake instead!

If you are looking to feature a particular chocolate, this is the dessert for you. I zipped up to Black Mountain Chocolate for another pound of dark chocolate to bake with, and used all of it in this recipe. It was completely worth it! After a few days in the fridge, we ended up leaving it out at room temperature to allow it to be as creamy and silky as it could be. The recipe doesn't instruct you to bake the cheesecake in a water bath, but the next time I make it, I definitely will. It would have been a little creamier and not suffered from cracks. I knew that, but decided to just do it as written first.

This was very chocolatey, very dark, and the glaze on top just makes it spectacular!

Another note about the recipe - I substituted graham crackers for the chocolate wafer cookies. I think chocolate wafer cookies must be a regional thing, because I see them in recipes all the time but have never actually encountered any myself. Once I tried substituting Oreos but they were far too greasy. Until I find these elusive cookies, I will just keep making graham crusts!

No need to wish me happy birthday; it was several weeks ago at this point, I'm just behind on blogging lately!

Monday, July 04, 2011

Happy Red, White, and Blue Day

Red, White, and Blue!
Strawberry shortcake seems so patriotic. Only because strawberries are ripe around what we call independence day. For these cute shortcakes, I used Anne Thornton's recipe, with a few changes - I added chopped up mint and thyme from my garden into the dough itself, not just with the berries. I didn't have an orange, so I skipped it. And I didn't add nearly as much sugar as was called for to the fruit.

All the fruit and herbs in this recipe come from our garden! Earlier today, the blueberries looked like this:
From Gardening

How can you resist? As far as patriotism goes, one of my English friends pointed out that strawberries and cream is a rather English dish. Hehe.