Pseudo-Guest Blogger Strikes Back: Dave dives into the world of doughnuts!

I’m back!  If 2011 was the year of the pancake, 2012 may be the year of the doughnut.  Well, at least till I have them figured out.  What started out as a mission to replicate the beignets that we loved in New Orleans has turned into a quest to make the perfect doughnut.  So far, this has proven to be quiet difficult.

We wanted to have party favors for a recent dinner party we threw; something sweet that our guests could enjoy on their walk or ride home.  We threw around doing doughnuts initially, but I said “what about beignets?”  After trying 3 different recipes, I found one that I liked, added a bit more sugar to it and then experimented with cooking times.  Our guests liked them, and I didn’t think they were half bad myself (although they were no Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans).  I thought “that wasn’t terrible, let’s try actual doughnuts.”  Famous last words.

I am now on recipe number 4 or 5 of the doughnuts and most have different ingredients for the dough.  From what I have found, the key principles to the dough are simple: 1) make sure your yeast activates and 2) give your dough enough time to rise.  I also made some slight tweaks with the ingredients. I enjoy adding a little bit of cinnamon or brown sugar even when the recipe does not call for it.  And vanilla extract, Mel will attest that when I bake vanilla extract goes into almost anything.

While the dough part isn’t all that difficult, the cook time in the oil and thickness of the dough when you cut the doughnuts all has to be pretty exact.  After allowing the dough to rise the first time, I use a sheet pan lined with flour to roll out the dough to a thickness of between 3/8″ to 1/2″.  This step is the difference between making a doughnut that is light and airy and one that is dense and chewy.  While dense and chewy may be good, light and airy is how I like my doughnuts.

My last doughnuts were my best so far; not quite perfect but I would call them pretty damn good.  They even stayed fresh for a few days afterwards, only needing to be reheated shortly in the microwave.  They weren’t quite the yeast doughnuts that we loved from Doughnut Plant in New York City, but I put those on a silver platter that I hardly expect to reach.  It’s not like I go around and compare my pancakes to those at brunch establishments in the city (oh, wait…), why would I do that to my doughnuts?

Recipe
Adapted from Allrecipes.com

Yields ~9 Doughnuts

Ingredients
1 envelope active dry yeast (.25oz)
1/4 cup warm water (~110 degrees)
1 1/2 cups lukewarm milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1/3 cup vegetable shortening (can be omitted)
5 cups all purpose flour (plus more for the pan)
1 quart of vegetable oil for frying

For Glaze
1 cup confectioners sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2-4 tablespoons milk

1) sprinkle yeast into warm water, let dissolve and then let stand for 5-10 until foamy.  If the yeast does not get foamy, it’s not active.
2) In a large bowl, mix together the yeast mixture, milk, vanilla extract, sugar, eggs, shortening, and 2 cups of flour.  Mix for a few minutes using a wooden spoon.  Beat in remaining 3 cups of flour 1 cup at a time until the dough no longer sticks to the bowl.  Knead for about 5 minutes then transfer the dough to a greased bowl.  Set in a warm, dark place for 1.5-2 hours or until dough has doubled in size (initial rise).
3) After the initial rise, place dough into a floured cookie sheet and roll out until 1/2″ thick.  Cut the floured dough with a dougnut cutter.  Cover the cut dough with a towel and let sit for 1 hour or until roughly double in size (second rise).
4) In a shallow bowl or platter, mix the confectioners sugar, cinnamon, and 2-4 tablespoons of milk until a thick glaze has formed.
5) Heat oil in a dutch oven, heavy skilley, or deep fryer to 350 degrees.  Place doughnuts into oil and allow 20-30 seconds of cooking per side.  The doughnuts will rise in thickness.  Be careful not to overcook, judge by color of the doughnut as it frys.  Remove after cooking and allow to drain on a paper towel lined cooling rack.  Dip into glaze while still hot, allow to cool slightly, serve while warm.

Latke Off: Traditional vs. Sweet Potato

It’s Chanukah, which means chocolate gelt, jelly doughnuts and of course, the traditional potato latke.  Dave and I recently attended a Latkepalooza, where local Philadelphia restaurants created their own version of the holiday potato pancake.  At the event, we were debating about what a latke should taste and look like.  Dave enjoyed his mother’s potato latkes growing up and I remember being served the Manischewitz latke mix from a box (that hardly hold a candle to homemade ones).  Of the more traditional latkes served, there wasn’t one that hit the mark of what a latke is SUPPOSED to be.  From this conversation our Latke-Off was born.

I knew that a traditional latke should have a hint of onion and use flour and egg to bind it together.  Dave wanted to strive to reproduce his mom’s recipe, which apparently was only grated potatoes fried in oil.  So that is what he did, but substituted in sweet potatoes.  I found a recipe from Food and Wine Magazine’s blog that advertised the perfect potato pancake, and that is exactly what they were.

While Dave and I were both standing by the stove frying our pancakes, mine stayed perfectly together, while Dave’s first mound disintegrated into match stick fries.  He immediately added flour and egg to his potato mixture, which helped some, but not enough.  (We later realized that sweet potatoes have a different starch and water content than white potatoes, and that is why they didn’t stay together.)

Here is the final product of both our latkes and recipes to follow.  The sweet potato latke recipe I made a few years ago, and I promise they won’t fall apart on you.  The pictures are of our results from the Latke-Off; your results may vary.

Renee Simmons Latkes Recipe
Adapted from Food and Wine Magazine
Makes 8 medium-sized and one Super latke

INGREDIENTS
3 1/2 pounds baking potatoes, peeled and halved
1 large yellow onion, cut into 8 wedges
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
canola oil, for frying
applesauce and sour cream for serving

1. Set a large strainer over a bowl. In a food processor fitted with the shredding disk, shred the potatoes and onion in batches. Add each batch to the strainer and let stand for 5 minutes, then squeeze dry. Pour off all of the liquid in the bowl and add the shredded potatoes. Stir in the flour, eggs, salt and baking powder. Scrape the mixture back into the strainer and set it over a bowl; let stand for 5 minutes.

2. In a very large skillet, heat 1/4 inch of canola oil until shimmering. Using a slotted spoon, spoon the potato mixture into the canola oil for each latke, pressing slightly to flatten. Fry over moderate heat, turning once, until the latkes are golden and crisp on both sides, about 7 minutes. Drain the latkes on a paper towel–lined baking sheet. Serve the latkes hot with applesauce and sour cream.

Sweet Potato Latkes
From the Sun Sentinal Newspaper

INGREDIENTS
1 1/2 lbs sweet potatoes, peeled
1 medium onion
2 large eggs
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
vegetable oil, for frying

1. Grate sweet potatoes and onion, using grating disc of a food processor or large holes of a grater.  Transfer to a large bowl.  Beat eggs with salt and pepper and add to potato mixture.  Add flour and mix well.

2.  Heat 1/4 cup of oil in a heavy 10- to 12-inch skillet, preferably nonstick.  Fill a 1/4 cup measuring cup with potato mixture, pressing to compact it, and turn it out in a mound into skillet.  Quickly form 3 more mounds in skillet.  Flatten each with a back of a spoon so each cake is about 2 1/2 to 3 inches in diameter, pressing to flatten.

3.  Fry over medium heat 3 minutes.  Turn carefully with 2 slotted spatulas and fry second side about 2 1/2 minutes, or until golden brown and crisp.

4.  Drain on paper towels.  Stir potato mixture before frying each new batch and add a little more oil to pan.  Serve pancakes hot.  Makes about 4 servings.

Carrot Cake Cookies

‘Tis the season for holiday cookies, and plenty of them.  This time of year I gorge myself on cookies and other sweets, and then every year my New Year’s resolution is to cut back on the sweets.  Notice the cycle here?

I love the carrot cake cookies from Talula’s Garden and decided I was going to attempt to make them for my book club’s 3rd Annual Cookie Swap.  They turned out softer than the ones at Talula’s, but still had that great carrot cake flavor.  They also happen to be good for breakfast on the go.

Carrot Cake Cookies

Adapted from Gourmet
Makes about 24 cookies (12 filled cookie sandwiches)

Ingredients

3/4 cup golden raisins (2 1/2 ounces)
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
pinch of cloves
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/3 + 3 tablespoons cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup finely grated carrots (2 medium or 4 small)
1 cup walnuts (3 ounces), chopped

8 ounces cream cheese
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Directions

Place raisins in a small bowl and add enough hot water to cover. Set aside for 5-10 minutes, then drain thoroughly and pat dry.

In a small bowl, whisk together flour, spices, baking soda and salt.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat butter, sugars, egg and vanilla until smooth and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Mix in carrots, walnuts and raisins (drained!) on low speed. Add flour mixture and beat just until combined. Set dough in refrigerator to chill for 15-30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375°F. Line two baking sheets with Silpats or parchment paper.

Working with one baking sheet at a time, drop 1 1/2 Tablespoons of dough per cookie onto baking sheet about 2 inches apart. Bake each sheet separately, 13-15 minutes or until centers spring back to the touch. Cool on pan for 2 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the frosting, pulse cream cheese and butter in a food processor, scraping down sides with a spatula as needed, until smooth. Add powdered sugar and vanilla, and pulse until combined.

If making ahead, store cookies at room temperature and frosting in refrigerator. Frost cookies before serving.

Pseudo-Guest Blogger: Dave Experiments With Chocolate Covered Bacon!

Chocolate?  Yes!  Bacon?  Yes!  Chocolate covered bacon?  Sign me up!  That was my thought process when Mel asked me to be a guest blogger and write about my first foray into creating chocolate covered bacon.  Who could pass up such an offer?  It’s a sweet and savory treat that combines two foods that I thoroughly enjoy.  Just ignore the fact that they neither are healthy when considered by themselves, let alone together.

I had been talking about trying some chocolate covered bacon for a while.  One night when we were walking home from running errands, we stopped in front of Jake’s Sandwich Shop on 12th street.  There it was, staring me in the face: Chocolate Covered Bacon.  It was barely dinner time but I knew that we had to try it.  We found a few things odd when trying Jake’s version.  First, the chocolate taste noticeably outweighed the bacon taste; we decided this was because there was a huge amount of chocolate surrounding the thin piece of bacon.  Second, the bacon was very crispy, too crispy.  Last, the pieces were really small; it seemed like each piece only contained a small portion of a strip of bacon.

With these issues in mind, we scoured the internet for some good recipes to create chocolate covered bacon at home.  After finding a few, I combined what I thought were the best recommendations and methods and created my first batch.

The raw bacon

The melting chocolate

The finished product

All in all, the first batch was pretty good.  Mel and I got to enjoy most of it, and we even managed to share some as well.  I learned some lessons for next time, but you’ll get the benefit immediately!

Chocolate Covered Bacon

Ingredients
¾ lb of melting chocolate (milk, dark, white – it’s your choice)
1 lb of thick sliced bacon

  1. Preheat the oven to 350f.
  2. Line a big cooling rack with parchment paper.
  3. In a double boiler, melt the chocolate completely until it is smooth.  Use a whisk to ensure that all pieces are melted and that it is not lumpy.  Remove from heat after melted.
  4. While the chocolate is starting to melt, line two cooking sheets with aluminum and place the bacon strips on the sheets.  Bake for 15 minutes or until crisp.  Remove immediately from the oven and transfer the bacon strips to paper towels to soak up any excess oil.
  5. Place the bacon strip into the melted chocolate.  Use a spoon or fork to coat the bacon strip completely.  After coating, place on cooling rack.
  6. Put cooling rack in refrigerator for 30 minutes to set the chocolate prior to eating.

I’ll have a side of turkey with my Oyster Stuffing

If I had to create a guest list for Thanksgiving dinner, the turkey would not be invited.  My attendance list would consist completely of sides (with a few dessert and alcohol invitees too!) Every year I am happy to mingle with candied yams, brussels sprouts, broccoli casserole, pumpkin pie and coconut cake.  The turkey is only invited to my plate annually because of it’s protein value.  Only Reason!

Stuffing is a plated guest every year as well, and sometimes it’s the life of the party and other times it is a Debbie Downer.  The Debbie Downers are usually of the boxed varietal.  My Bubbie (yiddish for Grandmother) used to make a stuffing with Rice Krispies when I was growing up.  My mom and I have tried to duplicate it multiple times and everytime the flavors are full of nostalgia, but the texture doesn’t always come out right.  And to be honest, with my new found food snobbery, I was disappointed that the recipe doesn’t call for more fresh ingredients.  I guess that is a post for another time.

When I found a recipe for Oyster Stuffing on Food & Wine’s web site, I thought I have to try this because 1) Dave and I love oysters and 2) I am still on the hunt for a good stuffing recipe.

*Side Note:  The recipe author is New Orlean’s own John Besh.  We’ll be in NOLA this weekend and we’ll be dining at one of his restaurants!

We halved the recipe, since we weren’t planning on feeding 6 to 8 people on a Sunday night.  Maybe 3 if you include my golden retriever, Beresford (aka Bere, pronounced Bear), although he rarely gets people food, except if he snatches it!  In addition, the recipe called for a slab of bacon which apparently is just that, a slab; it hasn’t been cut into strips yet.  But that wasn’t an option at Whole Foods, so we used the traditional strips.  The bacon and vegetables were cooked in a cast iron skillet and the kitchen was filled with an alluring aroma. When all the ingredients were combined and put in the oven, this was produced:

You’ll see that there are dark pieces scattered throughout the stuffing.  This is the bacon and green pepper, although they weren’t burnt when the dish went into the oven.

Dave and I think this is because we cooked those ingredients the same amount of time as called for in the original recipe, which you recall is double of what we actually made.  However, this did not affect the taste of the stuffing at all.  The flavor combo had our taste buds singing!

If you love oysters and stuffing separately, then you’ll love them together!  Give it a whirl, let me know how it turns out!

Oyster Dressing
(Adapted from foodandwine.com, contributed by John Besh)

Ingredients
2 ounces slab bacon, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 stick unsalted butter
1 celery rib, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1/2 green bell pepper, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1/2 small onion, finely diced
2 large garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 large baguettes (about 1 pound), cut into 1/2-inch dice (12 cups)
4 dozen shucked oysters plus 1 cup oyster liquor, oysters halved (2 cups)
2 scallions, minced
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon hot sauce
1 teaspoon kosher salt

1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter a 10-by-14-inch shallow baking dish. In a large skillet, cook the bacon over moderate heat until crisp, about 5 minutes. Add the butter and let melt, then add the celery, green pepper, onion and minced garlic and cook until softened, about 8 minutes. Add the paprika, garlic powder and cayenne and cook for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.

2. Put the diced baguettes in a large bowl. Spoon the bacon mixture on top. Add the oysters and their liquor along with the scallions and parsley.

3. In a small bowl, beat the eggs with the hot sauce and salt. Pour the eggs into the bowl and mix everything together. Scrape the dressing into the prepared baking dish and bake in the upper third of the oven for about 45 minutes, until heated through and crisp on top. Serve hot.

Make Ahead: The baked oyster dressing can be refrigerated overnight. Reheat before serving.

Halloween: A trick and two treats

I know Halloween is over and everyone is already starting to think about Thanksgiving, so why am I post-blogging about Halloween desserts?  It’s because you can make these desserts for Turkey Day or any other occasion during the winter……pumpkin cupcakes!

I offered to make cupcakes (and peanut butter candy eyeballs, which I’ll get to shortly) for a Halloween party.  Of course, I couldn’t bring just one type of pumpkin cupcake; I HAD to test two different recipes.  This is my reference to “two treats”.  The first recipe was Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes with Brown Butter Buttercream from foodnetwork.com.  The second was Ina’s (are you shocked?!) with cream cheese frosting that I adapted from housebeautiful.com. Besides the frostings, the main differences were the spices. Although both had cinnamon, Food Network’s had pumpkin pie spice and cloves, and Ina’s had nutmeg and ginger.  Another difference was FN’s also had applesauce, which helped make it extra moist.

Those peanut butter eyeballs “tricked” me half way through the recipe, so I decided to bag them all together.  I refuse to embarrass myself by presenting an incomplete sweet.  It was really the white chocolate chips that “tricked” me, as they wouldn’t melt properly to achieve the correct consistency for coating the peanut butter balls.  I promised you the “ugly” too, so here they are:

If you want to see what they are supposed to look like or try them yourself, here is a sample recipe.

More importantly, back to the cupcakes….

Here is FN’s

And BC’s

The final verdict handed down by Dave, myself and another party goer, was that the best cupcake would have been FN’s cake, with BC’s frosting.   I’ve included both recipes for you to come to your own conclusion.

Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes with Brown Butter Buttercream
Makes 24 cupcakes

2 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
3 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup canola oil
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups canned pumpkin
4 large eggs
Brown Butter Buttercream (recipe follows)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 regular size cupcake pans with cupcake liners.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ground cloves, and salt. Set the bowl aside. In a large bowl using an electric mixer on low speed, combine the sugar, oil, applesauce, vanilla extract, and pumpkin. Add the eggs 1 at a time. Mix on low until combined. Gradually add the flour mixture until just combined.

3. Fill the cupcake liners three-quarters full with batter and bake until the cupcakes spring back when touched with your finger, about 20 minutes. Let cool in the pans for a few minutes, and then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

For the buttercream:
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature, divided
4 cups powdered sugar (about 2 pounds)
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 to 6 tablespoons buttermilk

In a saucepan, heat ½ cup butter over medium-low heat until lightly browned, about 8 minutes. Cool.  In a large bowl using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the remaining ½ cup butter for 30 seconds.  Add the cooled brown butter and beat until combined.  Add the powdered sugar and vanilla.  Beat in the buttermilk, 1 tablespoon at a time, until spreadable. 

Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting
Makes 10 cupcakes

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup canned pumpkin purée (8 ounces), not pie filling
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1/2 cup vegetable oil
Cream Cheese Frosting (recipe follows)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Brush or spray the top of 10 muffin tins with vegetable oil and line them with 10 paper liners.

2. Into a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. In a larger bowl, whisk together the eggs, pumpkin purée, granulated sugar, brown sugar, and vegetable oil. Add the flour mixture and stir until combined.

3. Divide the batter among the prepared tins (I use a level 2 1/4-inch ice cream scoop) and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Set aside to cool completely.

4. Spread the cupcakes with the Maple Frosting and sprinkle with the chopped toffee bits.

For the frosting:
6 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
A few dashes of pumpkin pie spice
2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the cream cheese and butter on low speed until smooth. Stir in the vanilla extract. With the mixer still on low, slowly add the confectioners’ sugar and mix until smooth.