28 February 2010

les macarons parisienne

As many of you already know, or are finding out, I **LOVE** Paris.  I love the architecture, the shopping,  the language, the culture, the people... everything - especially the FOOD.  And one of the Frenchest (is that a word?  yes, I'm going to go ahead and decide it is) things you can eat while in Paris is le macaron.  You can hardly walk down the street without seeing these shiny, colourful little sandwich cookies beckoning "mangez-moi" to you from a pâtisserie window.  In fact, the array of stunning window displays in Paris, crafted from macarons could easily fill a coffee-table book - and a stunning book it would be (hmmm... there's an idea, and one hell of an excuse to go back for a visit)!

For those of you who have not yet had the pleasure of tasting un macaron, they are, at their most basic, a sandwich cookie comprised of two almond meringue cookies and a filling of some sweet sort.  That description simply does not do them justice. The variety of colours, flavours, fillings and flavour combinations they are available in is absolutely limitless.   In fact, I would be surprised if you could find a pâtisserie in Paris that does not have at least a dozen varieties on hand on any given day.  Ranging from the simplest vanilla with buttercream or chocolate filled with chocolate ganache, through the slightly more sophisticated cassis-violette (backcurrant & violet), caramel au beurre salé (salted butter caramel), olive oil & vanilla (a personal favourite of mine), and upwards into the very daring (or some would call them bizarre), white truffle (the fungal kind), wasabi & grapefruit, ketchup,  and even fois gras - the competition among pastry chefs to create the hot new flavour is so intense that they can go a bit crazy in effort to out-do one another.  Macarons have achieved an almost cult-like following, so much so that they even have their own day;  le Jour du Macaron falls on March 20th of each year, when the leading pastry chefs in Paris donate the day's proceeds from macaron sales to their charity of choice.  To drive donations and traffic, they usually go all out with the varieties available and "sell" them at a discounted rate.

Needless to say, upon returning home to Canada, I decided I needed to learn how to make these magnificent little confections.  Trial and lots of error ensued (and still does), and I learned that even though they may look simple, they can be surprisingly finicky to make.  You see, there is an anatomy to the ideal macaron; the two cookies should each be perfectly uniform in size and roundness, with a smooth, shiny dome resting on the iconic ruffled foot or "pied" as it is called (don't kid yourself, this is the very thing that makes them so darned tricky to make).  The cookies will have a crisp outer shell, with a soft, chewy interior.  But it doesn't stop there... hugged between these two flawless, almond-y shells is a delectable filling typically made of either a creamy, flavoured buttercream, a silky ganache or a brilliantly fruity preserve.  Well at least that's what it "said" they should look like...

Had this been any other dessert, I would have thrown in the towel and given up long ago, especially with a success rate somewhere around 15% (like I said; lots of errors), but they're so delectable and A) you couldn't get them  anywhere in Edmonton until very recently, and B) I absolutely refuse to be beaten by a few lousy egg whites, some sugar and ground almonds!  So I soldiered on, read everything I could get my hands on and quickly discovered there are a few little tricks to achieving success - but, oh, yeah... even with all the tricks it can all go out the window if it's a little to hot or humid or dry or cold or cloudy or... who knows - my success rate is still only about 15%.

But because I love macarons so much, despite the apparently abusive relationship I have with them, I keep trying.  To that end, I've recently joined the fabulous ladies on MacTweets as part of their MacAttack macaron challenges.  YAY!  Now I can torture myself on a regular basis and blog about it too!  Seriously though, I see it as much of a support group as it is a teaching tool.  A place where I can turn when I have meringue in my hair and cracked, flat, or footless macarons.  They feel my pain, and what's more, they understand why I keep going back...

So this month's MacAttck Challenge has the theme of Spring Fling: Baking Your Favourite Springtime Flowers.  Perfect!  I'll crack the code on those delicious cassis-violette macarons I love so much!  Except for one thing: a person cannot find violet flavouring of any kind in Edmonton.  Trust me - I've looked.  Fine, 'Plan B' it is (well, more like Plan D or E...).  Anyway, after much fruitless grocery shopping, I turned to my pantry and decided to try my own wacky flavour: Saffron Vanilla Macarons it is! Saffron fits the bill perfectly - it's not only a flower flavour, it is an actual part of a flower!  Now it's not typically used in sweet applications, but who knows - it might just turn up on Pierre Hermé's menu this spring.

So, I went about making my meringue with my aged egg whites, folding in the almond/sugar mixture, and performing my little tricks (remember?);  completing the macaronnage, and waiting ever so patiently for that full hour  for them to dry just the right amount so that their little pieds would magically pop out beneath them when they baked.  Well, our Olympic athletes aren't the only ones getting gold today -  when I finally found the courage to peek through the oven door, I found my macarons have feet!!! WooHoo!!!  As for the Saffron Buttercream, it's not bad, but it certainly didn't knock my socks off.  I'll be stripped of my medal if the IOC ever finds out, but I did have to artificially enhance the colour a tad.  Saffron is known for it's bright orange hue, however, when it's diluted in buttercream, it comes out looking a lot like something that is much less appetizing (I'll spare you all the graphic comparison).

At the end of the day, I am pretty happy with my result.  The colour marbling effect that I tried wasn't as dramatic as I had hoped and I didn't quite have the flavour success that I wanted, but ultimately they are so pretty and quite yummy anyway, that I really don't care - there's always next month.  All that matters is that they have FEET!

Many thanks to Deeba and Jamie and all my new friends on MacTweets - I can't wait for the next MacAttack!

makes 40 sandwich cookies

3 3/4 Cups (315 g) finely ground almonds
3 1/3 Cups (380 g) confectioner's sugar
1/8 tsp salt
5 egg whites (190g), room temperature, aged 3 days
1/8 tsp cream of tartar
5 tsp (25 g) granulated sugar
1/2 tsp almond extract
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Line two or three baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.  Fit a large pastry bag with a 1/2" plain tip; set aside.
In a food processor, process the ground almonds, salt and confectioner's sugar until the mixture is very finely ground.  Into a large bowl, sieve the mixture three times, to remove any large pieces or lumps.
In bowl of a standing mixer (if using a hand mixer, use a large, very clean bowl), whisk the egg whites on medium low speed until they frothy.  Sprinkle in the cream of tartar and increase speed to medium-high.  Whip until they are thick and voluminous (about a minute or so), then sprinkle in the granulated sugar.  Continue to whip until stiff peaks form - about 1 minute.  Be careful not to over-whip!
With a large rubber spatula, fold in about 1/3 of the ground almond mixture, followed by the almond and vanilla extracts.  Gradually fold in the remaining almond mixture until the mixture is very thick, and falls in a thick ribbon when the spatula is held over the bowl.
Fill the pastry bag with the mixture and pipe into 1-inch dots onto parchment-lined baking sheets - spaced about 3/4 inches apart.  The batter should slowly spread a little and become smooth and round on top.  Now we play the waiting game.......
Let the macarons sit at room temperature to dry - about 1-2 hours, depending on humidity (In Edmonton in February, it takes about 45 minutes - more than enough time to go apply another layer of lotion to your moisture-starved skin).
About 30 minutes before baking, place a rack in the centre of your oven and preheat to 300F.  If you normally bake with convection, I recommend you turn that feature off if your oven allows.  Bake the cookies, one sheet at a time for 14-16 minutes.  If you've done everything right, and the stars are properly aligned, and the macaron gods deem it so, you should have frilly little feet at the bottom of each perfect little macaron.  Transfer to a cooling rack and do your dance of joy. If your macarons are feetless, transfer to a cooling rack, take a deep breath and join the ranks of bakers world-wide who have felt your pain.  Allow the cookies to cool completely before filling.

Saffron Vanilla Buttercream
makes about 2 cups

2 large eggs
1/2 cup (50 g) granulated sugar
10-12 threads saffron
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 Cup (226 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into 1-inch cubes

On the stovetopring a saucepan half-filled with water to a simmer.  In a small mortar & pestle, combine 1/2 tsp of the sugar with the saffron threads.  Crush until the saffron is finely ground - you should end up with a uniformly coloured powder.  In a medium, heat-proof bowl, mix together the eggs, sugar, salt, saffron mixture and vanilla. Place the bowl over the pan of water, and gently but continuously whisk the mixture until it is thin and foamy and registers 160F on an instant-read thermometer.
Transfer the egg mixture to the bowl of a standing mixer and whip on medium-high speed until it becomes light and airy and has cooled to room-temperature (about 5 minutes).  Reduce the mixer speed to medium, and add the butter one piece at a time. When half of the butter has been added, it may look curdled, but don't fret, that's how it should look.  Once all of the butter has been added, increase mixer speed to high and whip for 1 minute, until the buttercream is light and fluffy.
Fill a piping bag with the buttercream, and pipe half of the cooled macaron shells with about 1 tsp of filling.  Top with an empty shell, and gently press the two together until the buttercream presses out and is almost flush with the foot of the macarons.  Take a deep breath, admire your handy work, and savour the fruits of your labour.  Voilà!

Petits Boutons de Financiers

A few years ago, while visiting friends in London, hubby and I took a quick jaunt over to Paris for three whole days and two nights.  I was my first trip to France, and as soon as I stepped of the train at the Gare du Nord, I felt like I was home.  Everything about that short three days was wonderful, save the sore feet... you see, we tend to enjoy seeing a new city on foot, so that's how we spent all three of those days, only I had only brought one pair of shoes.  Well, I learned that lesson the hard (and sore) way.  To make a long story short, three days in Paris was not enough for me - I needed to get back there, and SOON!

The following spring, hubby and I headed to Paris for a full month.  We rented a fabulous petit appartement in the Marais (or 4e arrondissement), and spent four fabulous weeks strolling around the city and getting to know Paris that much better, along with a little side trip to Lyon and Arles.  We shopped at the local boulangeries, pâtisseries and the Monoprix (bien sur!), we drank cafés crèmes at  cafés and ate croque monsieurs, macarons and pain au chocolat and even conducted our own little taste test of the fabulous Plaisirs Sucrés made by the chef who invented it, Pierre Hermé, and those at Ladurée (where he was working when he invented - Pierre's won out, hands down).  I shopped at fabulous kitchenware stores and spent some wonderful days taking cooking classes at the famed le Cordon Bleu and Lenôtre, learning to make decadent grantinée dauphinios and just how seriously the French take their croissants.  One word of advice - if you ever go to Paris and intend on taking cooking classes;  the classes at LCB are translated into English, at Lenôtre they are not, so make sure your 'Food French' is up to par before you go!

But I digress (which seems to happen every time I get started talking about Paris)... many a day, we would spend hours in one of the many museums of Paris, or just exploring a different arrondissement, and while you cannot walk more than a couple of blocks in Paris without passing some type of establishment selling food, we did find it handy to have some sort of casse-croûte in our bag.  One of our favourite such snacks were these petits boutons de financiers which we would pick up from the Boulangerie-Pâtisserie Heurtier, just down the street from our apartment.  A small sack of these moist little almond, chocolate or pistachio cakes, the size of a nickel, really hit the spot when we were in need a bit of nourishment ('cuz, you know, otherwise we were going to starve... in Paris).

Upon returning home to Edmonton, armed with a new silicone bouton mold from Paris, I made it my mission to recreate those delicious little cakelettes we snacked on.  I searched cookbooks and recipe sites far and wide, even searching various cooking sites from France.  All the recipes were basically the same, and they were pretty good, but I never managed to find the recipe that reproduced the moist, tender financiers I remembered.  Until one day, however, when I was flipping through my copy of Paris Sweets by Dorie Greenspan, and suddenly there it was - the holy grail of financier recipes (I swear I could hear angels singing).  It was completely different from all of the other recipes in every possible way, from the ratio of ingredients to the method of preparation (it needs to be said - this recipe is much faster and easier... *bonus*).  I immediately broke out the butter, almonds, sugar and eggs and got to work.  The result: success.  Moist, tender, flavourful little treats than immediately transported me back to the rue de la Verrerie in Paris.

So here you have it: the recipe as it is in Dorie's book.  Don't worry if you don't have a financier or bouton mold - I imagine very few of you do - just use a small madeleine mold or even a miniature muffin pan and adjust the cooking time until they are just springy to the touch when baked.  Be careful not to over-bake them, or they're likely to be more dry than moist, and that would be a crime.  Oh, and I hope you were all paying attention when I posted about Browned Butter Blondies, because brown butter is one of the key components of Financiers...

Financiers (excerpted from Paris Sweets by Dorie Greenspan)
makes about 12 mini-muffin sized cakes
makes a lot more if using a smaller mold

1 1/2 sticks (180 g) unsalted butter
1 Cup (201 g) granulated sugar
1 Cup (100 g) ground blanched almonds
6 large egg whites, at room temperature
2/3 Cup (90 g) all-purpose flour

Put the butter in a small saucepan and bring it to a boil over medium heat, swirling the pan occasionally.  Allow the butter to bubble away until it turns a deep brown, but don't turn your back on the pan - the difference between brown and black is measured in seconds.  Pull the pan from the heat and keep it in a warm place.
Mix the sugar and almonds together in a large saucepan.  Stir in the egg whites, place the pan over low heat, and, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, heat the mixture until it is runny, slightly white, and hot to the touch (about 2 minutes).  Remove the pan from heat and stir in the flour, then gradually mix in the the melted butter.  Transfer the batter to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, pressing it against the surface of the batter to create an airtight seal, and chill for at least 1 hour (the batter can be kept covered in the refrigerator for up to 3 days).
Centre a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 400F (200C).  Butter and flour 12 financier molds (or whatever mold you are using). (Dorie tested with rectangular financier molds that each hold 3 tablespoons - the bouton molds I use each hold 1 tsp)
Fill each mold almost to the top with batter.  Slide the molds into the oven and bake for 12-13 minutes, or until the financiers are golden, crowned and springy to the touch.  If necessary, run a blunt knife between the financier and the molds, then turn them out of their molds and allow them to cool to room temperature right side up on cooling racks.

Note: Although the batter can be kept for up to 3 days, once baked, financiers are best enjoyed the same day they are baked... which is rarely a problem.

23 February 2010

I'm sick of being sick already!

Okay, I'm officially sick with being sick.  I'll admit, it's kind of nice to take a "benylin day" every now and again and have the hubby wait on me hand and foot... and as far as I'm concerned, a sore throat & headache is a good enough reason.  But it's been FOUR DAYS now, and this officially sucks.  I can't breathe, I get exhausted just getting out of bed to let the dogs outside, I can't be more than 5 feet away from a kleenex box,  I look like crap (confirmed by my dear sis after I sent her a photo text), and I feel about as good as I look.  What I really want is to feel better again and bake carrot cake, and macarons, and make pesto with all the fresh basil I got before I became the drippy, diseased mess that I am now (hence the photo of Molly the bulldog & Riley the mutt).

There, now that you all feel sorry for me, or are at least faking sympathy (I don't care at this point, I'll take whatever I can get), I'm going to crawl back under the covers and sleep.  Hopefully this will pass soon, so I can get back to my baking... *sniff*

20 February 2010

Sick day

The worst part of a sick day is the being sick part.

I went to sleep last night thinking of the different things I would like to bake today.  Sadly, this morning I woke to a sore throat and a headache.  Super.  I mustered enough energy to get dressed & gear up to head out with my hubby to walk the dogs.  Less than a block from the house I could tell the cold air & brisk pace was doing me no good.  Hubby could see this too, so he took Molly's leash from me and sent me home with a kiss.  So home I came and made him some coffee before curling up in bed with some magazines, a few cookbooks, the laptop and one of the (now) tired pups.  For myself, I put on a kettle of water to boil, squeezed some lemon juice into a mug and spooned up some ginger honey.  That should soothe my sore throat...

Back to Basics....

I love to experiment with new recipes and try new things with my baking.  Every time I taste some new delicacy or lay eyes on some stunning pastry creation, I see it as a challenge... I putter and play in my kitchen, making a huge mess and plenty of mistakes until I achieve some sort of success.  Often times though, it's nice to get back to basics and make something that puts a smile on everyone's faces without breaking a sweat.  Everyone needs a recipe like this, even if they don't cook very often.  I'd bet that for most people (in North America at least), that back-to-basics recipe is Chocolate Chip Cookies.

When I make them, I'll often make a double batch, baking only 6 or 12 of them at the time.  The rest of the dough, I scoop out into individual balls onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet and freeze for an hour or so, before transferring them to a ziploc bag, to store in the freezer.  If the need or craving strikes, I can have hot-from-the-oven comfort food in the 15 minutes they take to bake.  This trick has come in handy for lots of little "emergencies" over the years... like the time one of our nieces walked through the door asking "Auntie, do you have any treats you baked?" before she even had her coat off.  Or when I got a panicked call from a friend, needing help getting her home ready for a last-minute showing, I grabbed the bag of frozen cookie dough and ran out the door to help - remembering a realtor's tip I read, saying that homey smells like vanilla and fresh-baked cookies help sell homes.  That realtor must be right, because the couple who viewed the house that day moved into it several weeks later.

Chocolate Chip Cookies
(adapted from Cook's Illustrated's The New Best Recipe)
makes 36-42 cookies

2 1/8 Cups (300 g) all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 Cup (200 g) brown sugar
1/2 Cup (100 g) granulated sugar
3/4 Cup  (180 g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 whole egg plus 1 egg yolk
2 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 Cups (200 g) chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 300F, adjust rack to middle of oven and line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.  

In a medium bowl, mix together flour, salt and baking soda and set aside.  In the bowl of a stand mixer (or if mixing by hand, use a large mixing bowl), blend together melted butter, granulated and brown sugars.  Mix in egg & additional yolk and vanilla.  Add dry ingredients and mix until well combined.  Stir in chocolate chips.

Using #70 disher, or two table spoons, drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto prepared baking sheets, spacing 1 1/2 - 2 inches apart.  Bake for 15-18 minutes, until the cookies edges are firm and golden brown, while the centres are still soft and puffy.  Allow to cool on baking sheets for 5 minutes before transferring to cooling rack.  Voilà!

Sophisticated Blondes

Believe it or not, I know people who do not like chocolate.  A proud chocoholic myself (my recent purchase of a 10 kg bag of chocolate chips guaranteed my status in that club), I personally find it hard to believe people who make this claim.  Be that as it may, for those of you who enjoy a sweet treat sans chocolate, Browned Butter Blondies are sure to be one of your favourites.

There are two ingredients in these squares that make them so great:  1) the browned butter (hence the name) and 2) the bright little twist of lemon.  You may not have been introduced to the wonderfully nutty taste of browned butter (buerre noisette en français), and this is a fantastic recipe to introduce it into your repertiore.  Browned butter is nothing more than unsalted butter, melted in a saucepan over medium heat, and then left on the heat until the milk solids in the butter begin to toast and turn a nice dark brown, but the trick is not to actually *burn* the butter (I'm sure we've ALL had experience there).  Make sure you use a stainless steel lined pan when you brown butter - if you use a pan with a dark interior, you can't tell when your butter is too pale, browned to perfection, or has become "beurre noir" - still useable, just not ideal for this recipe.  Once the butter has melted completely, it will begin to foam, and then it will seem as though nothing is really happening.  Don't be fooled - gently stir and loosen the solids from the bottom and sides of the pan so that it will brown evenly.  Keep stirring occasionally.  Depending on your stove and the pan you are using, it will probably take about 6-8 minutes until the solids have turned a nice dark brown (about the colour of hazelnuts or pecans).  Once it has reached this stage, immediately remove it from heat and pour it into a heat-proof bowl or measuring cup to halt the cooking process.

If you're patient and keep a watchful eye on the butter, you will eventually be rewarded with a toasty, nutty, surprisingly sophisticated ingredient that can be used in a number of ways... Mix it with a little bit of lemon juice, capers and parsley and it is excellent with fish;  for ravioli, toss some pine nuts and fresh basil in your finished butter, drizzle over the cooked pasta & add a nice sprinkling of freshly grated cheese - YUM!  In this recipe, it adds a sophisticated depth of flavour that elevates these over the run-of-the-mill sweet squares.  As for the lemon - there isn't much called for (only 2 Tbsp), but this is one time you want to make sure you use real lemons - the bottled stuff is noticeably inferior here.

You can make Browned Butter Blondies without the nuts, or switch out the pecans for walnuts or even pine nuts (their mild, buttery taste would be a perfect match).  If you are going to use nuts, make sure to toast them first - it brings out their flavour and keeps them crunchy in the finished product, instead of being bland, soft and "steamed" while the batter bakes up.  With nuts or without, one thing is for sure - Browned Butter Blondies disappear fast.

Browned Butter Blondies
Makes 16 squares

1 2/3 Cups (235 grams) all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 Cup (155 grams) unsalted butter, browned as directed above, and cooled slightly
1 Cup (220 grams) brown sugar
1/2 Cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
2 Tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 Cup (90 g) pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 325F, place rack in the middle of the oven and prepare a 8x8 or 9x9 square baking pan with parchment paper and non-stick spray.

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt and set aside.  In a large bowl (or bowl of a standing mixer), combine brown and white sugars with browned butter, and mix well.  Mix in the eggs, vanilla and lemon juice.  Stir in the dry ingredients until just incorporated, then mix in the pecans.  Pour into the prepared pan, and spread batter to the edges.  Bake for 35-40 minutes until toothpick comes out with a few moist crumbs clinging to it.  Allow to cool for 10-15 minutes before cutting into squares.

13 February 2010

Have a Sweet Valentine's Day!

Here's wishing you all a very Happy Valentine's Day.  I'm going to be devouring these wonderful chocolate hearts, filled with a raspberry crème fraîche from Chocolaterie Bernard Callebaut, and watching the Olympics of course...what treats are you and your sweetie enjoying?

Go Canada!
Vas-Y Canada!

09 February 2010

Gifts from the Tropics & Ginger Cream Scones

On Sunday, my parents returned from their annual holiday in Hawaii.  Every winter for more than 20 years now, they leave the cold, bleak winters of Alberta for a month of sun and sand in Oahu.  I can only imagine how difficult it must be some years, to leave the ocean and warm breezes of Hawaii and return to bundling up in layers and shoveling snow until spring arrives.  I would hope that the month of reprieve from the cold makes the last few months of winter that much easier to bear.

When she returned home this year, my mom brought me a few little treats in the form of flavourful syrups.  Hawaiian Ginger syrup, Thai Ginger syrup and Coconut syrup - tasty treats for me to play with in the kitchen.  Perhaps I should have waited a few days for my Rice Pudding experiment - guess I'll just have to try again and see if I can improve the results - but that will have to wait for another day.  Being short on time this morning, I decided to try out one of my new ingredients in a much quicker recipe...

Cream Scones are incredibly simple to make and taste like home.  A friend made these for us when we arrived in London for a visit, served up with strawberry jam and double cream (the likes of which I have yet to taste again outside of the UK).  I myself make these at least once a month and enjoy them with a nice hot cup of coffee on a Saturday or Sunday morning.  Omit the ginger and you have a simple biscuit that is still elegant enough to be served as dessert, split open and served with fresh berries and softly whipped cream.  Add some dried currants or cranberries to the dough and you won't need a thing to serve with them, they're delicious and flavourful.  The trick is to work the dough as little as possible once you add the cream and you will be rewarded with scones that are light and fluffy and delectable.  Overwork that dough and you'll end up with something you should probably use as a door-stop.  In this case, the candied ginger makes them as much a treat as any cookie would be.

Ginger Cream  Scones
(makes 8 scones)

2 Cups (284 g) all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp (16 g) baking powder
3 Tbsp (45 g) sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 Cup (60 g) crystallized ginger, minced
5 Tbsp (71 g) unsalted butter, cold and cut into small pieces
1 Cup (240 ml) heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 Tbsp heavy cream
1 1/2 tsp ginger syrup

1. Preheat oven to 425F and move rack to middle position in oven.
2. In the bowl of a food processor, (you can also make these by hand in a large bowl), blend together the flour, baking powder, sugar, salt and ginger.
3. Add in the butter pieces and blend with three or four 1-second pulses (or cut the butter in by hand as you would for pie dough).
4. Pour in the cream and vanilla and pulse three more times, until the cream is just barely incorporated into the flour mixture (you will still have some pockets of dry ingredients).
5. Turn the mixture out onto a clean countertop and gently knead by hand just until the dough comes together in one cohesive ball - remember not to overwork it!   Flatten the dough out into a rectangle or circle about 3/4 inch thick.  Cut into equal sized pieces and place them on a parchment-lined baking sheet, spacing them about 2 inches apart.
In a small bowl, mix together the 3 Tbsp cream and syrup.  Brush mixture onto each of the raw scones and then sprinkle them with sugar.  Place in oven for 11-15 minutes, until puffy and the tops are just golden brown around the edges.  Serve when still warm from the oven.

NOTE: Because these are so simple, they don't keep long.  If you wish to make a smaller batch, follow steps 1 through 3 as above.  Take half of the flour and butter mixture, cover and refrigerate for use at a later date.  This mixture will keep for up to 5 days.  To the remaining half of the mixture, add 1/2 Cup of cream and 1/2 tsp of vanilla and prepare as as directed.  Ditto for the "leftover" batch, when you are ready to make them.

04 February 2010

Coconut-Ginger Rice Pudding

A few months ago, I went to visit my sister in California.  It was a great visit, but then it always is.  We go shopping (naturally - we were practically raised in a mall!), we go get our nails done at the absolute best nail salon in Southern California, we hang out, do cool stuff and then we shop some more.  Since her husband was out of town during my last visit, I got to be her date for my nephew's football banquet at school.  It was a pot-luck event, and since I was going to be in town, she volunteered me to bring a dessert (naturally).  We had a good time, chatted with some of her friends and enjoyed watching my nephew be embarrassed by the whole evening - as were all the other 14-year olds on the team.  Checking out the lineup of desserts on the buffet, sis & I couldn't pass up the home-made rice pudding one of the mom's had brought.  After all, rice pudding is another one of our childhood fav's.  We headed back to the table, grabbed our spoons and dug in.  Immediately, our eyes locked as we tried to figure out what the heck that odd flavour was... it sure wasn't like any rice pudding we had ever tasted.  It tasted....uhhh....smokey...like cigarettes or something.  I know we live in a very food-saavy world these days, and chefs are always trying new things, testing new flavour combinations, but I am almost 100% positive that Wet Ashtray Rice Pudding is not going to be the hot new taste sensation that takes the country by storm.  Holy hell, it was bad.  One spoonful was enough and we were off to find some other dessert to kill the aftertaste.  The only thing I can think of is either a) they smoke a LOT in that house, or b) someone accidentally grabbed the bottle of liquid smoke instead of the vanilla.  Now we've all had at least one culinary disaster in our lives, but one thing I have learned is to always, ALWAYS, taste your product before you head out the door to serve it to 75 people.

That little incident nearly killed my love for rice pudding - it certainly made me avoid it for a while, but I've been itching to come up with a recipe for coconut rice pudding and I figure tonight's the night to get back on the proverbial horse and give it a try.  It turned out pretty good, especially for something I had no recipe for to begin with.  Hubby liked it, and I think my sis would too.  After all, the bar is set pretty low since the last time she had rice pudding.  Too bad she's too far away to be one of my tasters....

Julia's Coconut-Ginger Rice Pudding
Serves 4

4 Tbsp (60 g) ginger marmalade
1 Cup (240 ml) coconut milk
3 Tbsp (45 ml) heavy cream
2 Tbsp (30 g) sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp coconut extract
1/2 tsp fresh-squeezed lime juice
1 egg yolk
1/4 Cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1 Cup cooked rice (great use for left-overs, but I recommend using a starchy, short-grain rice like arborio)

In a large saucepan, over medium heat, melt the ginger marmalade.  Stir in the coconut milk, heavy cream, sugar & salt and heat, stirring occasionally until the mixture just starts to boil, then reduce the heat to low. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, use a fork to break up the egg yolk.  Take a few tablespoons of the coconut-ginger mixture, and slowly add it to the egg yolk, whisking continuously (you need to temper the egg before you add it to the mixture, or else you'll have scrambled eggs in your pudding and that's almost as gross as wet ashtray rice pudding).  Pour the tempered egg mixture into the saucepan, and cook over medium-low heat, stirring continuously until the mixture is slightly thickened, or temperature reads 175-180 degrees on an instant-read thermometer.  Remove pan from heat and stir in the vanilla and coconut extracts, as well as the lime juice.  Toss in the cooked rice, and stir well until all of the rice is coasted with the custard.   

In a small, non-stick skillet over medium-low heat, slowly toast the shredded coconut. Keep a close eye on this, and stir the coconut every minute or so, as it can burn quickly.  As soon as the coconut turns  golden brown, immediately remove it from the heat and add it to the rice pudding mixture in the saucepan.  Give the pudding a final stir, and spoon into small bowls or ramekins.  Chill in the fridge for 1-2 hours before serving.

Because this is a recipe that I completely made up in my head, I welcome any and all feedback you have to offer.  Give the recipe a try and let me know what you think. Enjoy!