Archive for the ‘Thanksgiving’ Category

Really good brownies

25 January 2013

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Nigel Slater’s brownie recipe is, in his words, “just a 24-carat brownie, as dense and fudgy as Glastonbury Festival mud.” Who could resist? I, for one, couldn’t. Though I rarely make chocolate dessert — a whole year might go by — and never choose the chocolate option on a restaurant menu.

It’s not, as I sometimes explain for simplicity’s sake, because I don’t like it much. The truth is that, in matters of chocolate, I am embarrassingly picky. While most fruity cakes, tarts, and crumbles make me happy, chocolate doesn’t often hit the mark. It’s not as simple as dark or milk, cake or mousse, it’s a subtle dance in proportions: the shade, the butter, the nuts; it’s entirely subjective. For me, the perfect chocolate confection lies somewhere between a pecan blondie and a sombre, flour-less, nutty chocolate cake.

Which swept me right into the lap of this deep dark, spot-on fudgy brownie. It could be the only chocolate dessert I make all year.

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Very slightly adapted from Nigel Slater’s The Kitchen Diaries

I substituted “60 g of finest-quality cocoa powder” with an equal amount of additional regular chocolate (and so reduced the sugar very slightly). I also added pecans, of course.

1 1/2 cups (275 g) sugar

1 cup and 2 Tbsps (250 g) butter (more to butter the pan)

11 ounces (310 g) dark chocolate (70%)

3 eggs plus 1 yolk

1/2 cup (60 g) flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

Pinch of salt

1 cup pecans or walnuts, roughly chopped (optional)

Take the butter out of the refrigerator to soften at room temperature.

Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Line a baking tin, approximately 9″ (23 cm) square, with parchment paper. Butter the paper and the sides of the pan.

Prepare a pan of simmering water. Break the chocolate into pieces and set aside about 2 ounces (50 g). Melt the chocolate (except the 2 ounces) in a bowl sitting atop, but not in, the simmering water. Once melted, remove the chocolate from the heat and set aside to cool. Chop the remaining 2 ounces of chocolate into chip size pieces.

In a large bowl, beat the sugar and softened butter thoroughly, until very light and creamy.

Break the eggs into a small bowl and whisk briefly with a spoon. Add the eggs to the sugar/butter mixture, little by little, stirring thoroughly in between.

Add the melted and the chopped chocolate.

Mix in the flour sifted together with the baking powder and a pinch of salt. Do not overstir, stop as soon as all the flour has disappeared.

Finally fold in the pecans, carefully with as few large strokes as possible.

Scrape the batter into the prepared baking tin, smooth the top, and slide into the oven to bake for approximately 30. Test for doneness with the point of a sharp knife that should come out wet but without raw batter attached. Return to the oven for a few minutes if necessary until done. **The brownies will continue to solidify a bit once they are out of the oven, careful not to overcook!**

Let cool for at least an hour before cutting.

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The last Thanksgiving, for a while

29 November 2012

Thirteen years and a few months ago, Thomas and I moved to New York for two or three years. (Thomas says one or two years.) Apparently, we hadn’t discussed things in great detail. Actually, he went to DC while I settled in New York; it was clear that he would join me a year later. At least I think it was. (He did.) We had married in Berlin three weeks earlier.

Next summer we are moving to London. I know better than to give an estimated time-frame. I think it will be temporary. Thomas thinks it won’t. We still own our opinions.

So for me the holiday this year took on the slightly nostalgic sheen of our last Thanksgiving stateside, for a while. I pulled out a carefully folded, diligently preserved page from the Wednesday, November 17, 1999 New York Times: In a Berkeley Kitchen, A Celebration of Simplicity. I didn’t host Thanksgiving that first year, a friend had invited us to her huge, raw, self-renovated, artfully stage-managed Meatpacking district loft. She gave me the newspaper clipping and asked whether I might bake the cranberry upside-down cake. Of course I would.

The feast featured turkey and salmon, creamed leeks and lots of other sides that I can’t recall, though we helped prepare most of it that afternoon. There were probably thirty guests, in a grand space that could have accommodated sixty. We sat cross-legged on cushions around a long low candlelit table. I eavesdropped as a soul-searching dancer waxed existential with a timidly successful artist. New York! I had landed, incredibly, in the middle of a Woody Allen movie (I grew up in France, after all).

Now, when I pull out the yellowed, dried-out newspaper, that night comes rushing back. And those tentative beginnings in New York. Moving to a new city not knowing a soul (ok, two souls). The daunting search for work in a completely new world. It was scary and exciting and wonderful. Alice Waters’ Thanksgiving recipes remind me of all of it.

This year I didn’t prepare the cranberry upside-down cake because dessert is the one thing I don’t make on Thanksgiving nowadays, but I made her wild mushroom stuffing and the stewed fennel. For old times’ sake. And lots of other things. In the past I’ve stuck to a well orchestrated, carefully balanced mix of dishes and flavors that worked very well but kept bugging me as lacking the true spirit of American Thanksgiving, which, I know, is very much about the abundance of sides. Pushing aside this European restraint, I let go.

I would make mashed potatoes, of course, and a shaved Brussels sprouts salad I’ve been wanting to do for years. On the Monday before Thanksgiving I tried to make cranberry chutney. It wasn’t right. On Tuesday I cooked it again, with more sugar and some walnuts. I imagined something sweet and very thick, practically sticky. Wednesday evening Thomas baked his pumpkin pies, I made soup, and as I started a classic cranberry sauce I felt the chutney still needed more sugar, more cooking. It was getting late. But at 1:00 am I decided I must also make those pickled carrots I’d seen a few days before. And I had squash so I’d roast that with spices and a light touch of maple syrup. It was a lot of fun. The final menu looked something like this.

Thanksgiving Menu

Celeriac and chestnut soup

Heritage turkey
Wild mushroom stuffing

Mashed potatoes
Stewed fennel
Spicy roasted squash
Brussels sprouts salad with pecorino
Pickled carrots
Cranberry sauce
Cranberry chutney

Desserts — pumpkin pies, pear and chocolate tarte, apple cake, tiramisu, chocolate soufflés …

The next day, elated from the party but also exhausted from it all, as we drove away to spend the rest of the weekend — traditionally — by the sea, and although our friends were already scheming to come to London to celebrate next year, I was practically ready to leave that holiday behind.

A new city, a new country, new traditions, surely. Of course I wouldn’t. I’ve taken Thanksgiving with me from Paris to Berlin and home to New York. London Thanksgiving will have to be, and forge its own traditions.

A carrot cake for Halloween

9 November 2012

I felt so organized, I had it all planned out. I would not only make the cake but photograph it and publish it here on Halloween. My plans were thwarted by a storm which, uncharacteristically among New York weather forecasts, turned out to be stronger and much more damaging than anyone expected. Taking the warnings lightly at first we didn’t stock up on food, water, or candles. We didn’t try to locate our missing flashlight.

Subways stopped running on Sunday evening; on Monday schools and offices were closed. Homebound by this citywide shutdown, we huddled and played games all morning. The hurricane was on its way, barely perceptible but for the blustery weather, and we were waiting. Suddenly we felt we must go out. Now was the moment, while there was still time.

The impulse was to go toward the water, see the swollen river, perch on benches to watch the eerily high Hudson. It seems frivolous now. The city was already deserted. The empty park, the windswept streets. We decided perhaps we should make provisions, after all, and my thoughts were, stubbornly, on the Halloween cake.

Some stores that had been open were closing, sending us and a few forlorn tourists on their way. We finally found one, ransacked of chicken and ice cream but with plenty of carrots and walnuts. I forgot to look for candles. We stopped at a pharmacy, they were sold out. I bought two different sizes of batteries hoping one might fit the flashlight, if I could find it.

That night the hurricane came with howling winds and crashing trees, but in our corner of town the power didn’t go out, the lights barely flickered. The next morning I even made the cake. Then the news started getting worse. Those without power were soon without water. Stories of houses burned to the ground, scenes of complete devastation.

So we started checking up on friends, offering food, hot showers, and power outlets. And friends came. And it was Halloween. And though all was dark downtown and broken elsewhere we went trick or treating in Harlem, with neighbors. I even finished the cake, with icing and evil-looking spiders. Just in time.

The news kept getting worse. Within a few days some areas recovered electricity, water, and heat; others did not. Many have lost much more. We were unnaturally lucky, so close and so unscathed. My mind hasn’t been on cooking. Feeding friends and family, yes, but not cooking.

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Carrot Cake

For the past three years I’ve made carrot cake for Halloween, adorned with what I think are pretty cool, mean-looking, edible prune and cranberry spiders. I’m not exactly sure how I got hung up on that particular type of cake but in my mind it presented itself as the natural choice. I was inspired by a few recipes to achieve this one, which comes quite close to my ideal version of a carrot cake. Dense but moist, not too sweet, with nuts.

1 cup (225 g) butter (and a little extra to butter the pan)

1 1/4 cup (200 g) brown sugar

4 eggs

1/2 (150 ml) cup buttermilk

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 cup (75 ml) honey

2 cups (250 g) flour, half white half whole wheat

2 tsps baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

2 tsps salt

2 cups (250 g) finely grated carrots

1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts

1/2 (100 g) cup raisins

1 cup (250 ml) apple sauce

Take the butter out of the refrigerator to soften at room temperature for about 15-20 min.

Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C) and line the bottom of an 11-inch (28 cm) round cake pan with parchment paper. Butter the paper and the sides of the pan.

In a large bowl, beat the softened butter with the sugar until the mixture becomes light colored and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, whisking well to combine. Add the buttermilk, vanilla extract, and honey, mixing well.

In another bowl, mix together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Add the flour to the sugar/butter/egg mixture, stirring just enough so the flour disappears.

Gently add the carrots, walnuts, raisins, and apple sauce.

Bake in the oven for 1 hour to 1 hour 15 min. The cake is done when a knife inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.

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Icing

8 Tbsps (110 g) unsalted butter

6 oz. (170 g) cream cheese

1 lb (500 g) mascarpone

1 1/2 cups (150 g) icing sugar

Zest and juice from 1 lemon

At room temperature, let the butter become very soft. In a medium bowl, beat it well with a spatula.

In a small bowl, beat the cream cheese well before mixing it with the butter. Once the cream cheese is incorporated with the butter, beat the mascarpone well before adding it to the butter and cream cheese.

Sift the icing sugar before mixing it into the butter/cream cheese/mascarpone mix.

Finish by stirring in the lemon zest and juice.

Refrigerate the icing about 1/2 hour before spreading it onto the cake.

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Spiders

1 prune and 1 large sweetened cranberry per spider

Cut the prune into thin slivers lengthwise to create eight spider legs. Place the cranberry on the cake so as to make the body of the spider. Arrange the ‘legs’ around it.

Quick lemon and lime tart

2 May 2012

In my world, lemon pie is a little like roast chicken; having been introduced to the utterly convincing very elaborate version, I had forgotten how quick and easy it can also be.

The herbs-stuffed-under-the-skin-of-the-chicken version of lemon pie is that of the River Café Cookbook Blue. It requires 6 whole eggs plus 9 yolks and half an eternity of patient stirring over a very low fire. It is the mother, grandmother, fairy godmother, and evil aunt of all lemon pies. It should be made at least once in a lifetime.

But if you don’t have 15 eggs or an entire day to spare, there is this recipe, which asks for nothing more than to whisk all the reasonably proportioned ingredients together, pour them into a pre-cooked tart shell, and bake.

This is the child prodigy of lemon pies. Effortless. Very tart, with an unconventional twist of lime. Addictive.

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Recipe slightly adapted from The Naked Chef by Jamie Oliver

1 unbaked sweet pie crust

Egg-wash (1 egg and a little milk)

Zest from 2 limes

3/4 cup (200 ml) fresh lime juice (4 to 5 limes)

Zest from 2 lemons

3/4 cup (200 ml) fresh lemon juice (3 to 4 lemons)

1 1/2 cups (300 g) sugar

8 large eggs

1 1/2 cups (350 ml) heavy cream

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Preheat oven to 350°F (175°C).

With a fork, mix 1 egg with a little milk and egg-wash the uncooked pie crust before baking blind.

Bake the pie crust blind for 10 to 12 minutes minutes. **When baking blind either poke a bunch of small wholes into the crust with a fork, or use dried beans or ceramic baking weights on the crust to prevent it from rising.**

Remove the blind-baked crust from the oven and set aside while making the filling.

Grate the limes and lemons for their zest. Squeeze the limes to obtain 3/4 cup juice and the lemons to obtain 3/4 cup lemon juice.

In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar and eggs until the yolks are completely broken up and the mixture becomes very smooth.

Stir in the heavy cream, then the lime and lemon juice.

Place the blind-baked pie crust back onto the oven rack then pour in the filling (this avoids spillage, as the pie will be filled up to the rim).

Bake the tart for 35 to 40 minutes until it is barely starting to turn golden and still a little wobbly in the middle. It will set as it cools.

Let cool completely before serving.

Fresh strawberries or raspberries would be a great complement to this pie, but just a little unsweetened home-whipped cream goes really well too.

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Figs, walnuts, and chocolate

9 March 2012

Always an arm’s reach and no cooking away from an excellent dessert, and most delicious when the figs are broken open and stuffed with walnut halves.

It’s what we had at home most nights when I was a teenager. Every evening dinner included a main course, a salad, perhaps cheese, and, invariably, yogurt — plain, with a generous spoonful (or two) of jam or honey. And when one (or two) yogurt(s) left us with a feeling of not enough, we grabbed the nutcracker, the figs, and procrastinated with dessert before getting back to our homework.

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