Sunday, November 29, 2009

thanksgiving report



The Turkey:


Mmm. Brined and bronzed. Alton Brown's Good Eats recipe proved delicious, if a bit precarious. (Pray you have a self-cleaning oven.) But the crispy, Peking-duck-esque skin and moist flesh were worth all the smoke and splattering. Plus, it was really, really ridiculously good looking.


The Stuffing:

Prior to this year, I was a serial dater when it came to stuffings, perpetually playing the field. No longer. This stuffing, adapted from Silver Palate, is the equivalent of a culinary soul mate. It deserves its own holiday.


The Sides:

Our buffet included the familiar line-up of Thanksgiving sides, from Brussels sprouts to butternut squash puree. These glazed pearl onions may seem like an afterthought, but they've become a perennial favorite.


The Desserts:

Yes, five desserts (four plus one duplicate) is a bit optimistic for 12 people. But it's not a holiday for moderation. I can't take credit for the pies—two very tasty iterations of the Thanksgiving classics—but I can direct you to the recipes. The pumpkin is particularly of note, both for it's easy press-in shortbread crust, and it's bold spicing.

My contribution was a pear and chocolate cake, which seemed appropriately autumnal and wasn't at risk of redundancy. The pears and chocolate (who knew they made such tasty bedfellows?) sink during baking, enveloped by delicious brown butter cake.


***


Good Eats Roast Turkey
Adapted from Alton Brown

1 (14 to 16 pound) frozen young turkey

For the brine:
1 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 gallon vegetable stock
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 1/2 teaspoons allspice berries
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped candied ginger
1 gallon heavily iced water

For the aromatics:
1 red apple, sliced
1/2 onion, sliced
1 cinnamon stick
1 cup water
4 sprigs rosemary
6 leaves sage
Canola oil

2 to 3 days before roasting: Begin thawing the turkey in the refrigerator or in a cooler kept at 38 degrees. Combine the vegetable stock, salt, brown sugar, peppercorns, allspice berries, and candied ginger in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Stir occasionally to dissolve solids and bring to a boil. Then remove the brine from the heat, cool to room temperature, and refrigerate.

Early on the day or the night before you'd like to eat: Combine the brine, water and ice in the 5-gallon bucket. Place the thawed turkey (with innards removed) breast side down in brine. If necessary, weigh down the bird to ensure it is fully immersed, cover, and refrigerate or set in cool area for 8 to 16 hours, turning the bird once half way through brining.

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.

Remove the bird from brine and rinse inside and out with cold water. Discard the brine. Place the bird on roasting rack inside a half sheet pan and pat dry with paper towels.

Combine the apple, onion, cinnamon stick, and 1 cup of water in a microwave safe dish and microwave on high for 5 minutes. Add steeped aromatics to the turkey's cavity along with the rosemary and sage. Tuck the wings underneath the bird and coat the skin liberally with canola oil.

Roast the turkey on lowest level of the oven at 500 degrees for 30 minutes. Insert a probe thermometer into thickest part of the breast and reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees. Set the thermometer alarm (if available) to 161 degrees. A 14 to 16 pound bird should require a total of 2 to 2 1/2 hours of roasting. Let the turkey rest, loosely covered with foil or a large mixing bowl for 15 minutes before carving.


Corn Bread-Sausage Stuffing With Apples
Adapted from Silver Palate Cookbook

We opted for an out-of-the-bird approach this year, which left the stuffing (or, in this case, dressing) moist and crisp in perfect proportion.

Serves 10-12

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 1/2 cups finely chopped yellow onions
3 tart apples (we used Mutsu and Honeycrisp), cored and chunked; do not peel
1 pound lightly seasoned bulk sausage (breakfast sausage with sage is best)
3 cups coarsely crumbled corn bread
3 cups coarsely crumbled whole-wheat bread
3 cups coarsely crumbled white bread (French or homemade preferred)
2 teaspoons thyme
1 teaspoon sage
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 1/2 cups shelled pecan halves

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Melt half of the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add the chopped onions and cook, partially covered, until tender and lightly colored, about 25 minutes, Transfer the onions and butter to a large mixing bowl.

Melt the remaining butter in the same skillet. Add the apple chunks and cook over high heat until lightly colored but not mushy. Transfer the apples and butter to the mixing bowl.

Crumble the sausage into the skillet and cook over medium heat, stirring, until lightly browned. With a slotted spoon, transfer the sausage to the mixing bowl and reserve the rendered fat.

Add the remaining ingredients to the ingredients in the mixing bowl and combine gently. Cool completely before stuffing the bird; refrigerate if not used promptly.

If you do not wish actually to stuff the bird, spoon it into a casserole. Cover the casserole and set into a large pan. Pour hot water around the casserole to come halfway up the sides, Bake for 30 to 45 minutes, basting occasionally with the cooking juices from the bird or with the reserved sausage fat if necessary.


Brown-Braised Pearl Onions
Adapted from Julia Child

Please don't be discouraged with the prospect of peeling these little guys. Once you blanch them, the skins slip right off... kind of.

18-24 pearl onions, about 1 inch in diameter
1½ tablespoons butter
1½ tablespoons olive oil
½ cup brown stock, or more [you can also experiment with dry white wine, red wine, or water]
Salt and pepper to taste
4 parsley sprigs
1 bay leaf
1 sprig thyme

To peel the onions, cut off the stems with a paring knife and cook in boiling water for 1 minute. Drain and immediately plunge blanched onions into a bowl of ice water. Squeeze each onion gently at root end; the skins should pop off.

Heat the oil and butter in a skillet. Add the onions and sauté over moderate heat for about 10 minutes, rolling the onions about so they will brown as evenly as possible. (You can't expect them to brown uniformly.) Be careful not to break their skins.

Pour in enough liquid to come halfway up the sides of the onions, season to taste, and add the herbs. Cover and simmer slowly for 30 to 50 minutes until the onions are perfectly tender but retain their shape, and the liquid has evaporated. Remove herbs, and serve warm. [The onions can be cooked hours in advance, and reheated before serving.]


Easy Pumpkin Pie with Press-In Shortbread Crust
Adapted from Martha Stewart

For the crust:
2 ounces (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
3 tablespoons sugar
1 large egg yolk
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon coarse salt

For the filling:
1 can (15 ounces) solid-pack pumpkin
1 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
Whipped cream, for serving

Make the crust: Stir together butter and sugar in a medium bowl. Stir in yolk. Add flour and salt, and stir until mixture is dry and crumbly. Press dough into bottom and up sides of a 9-inch pie dish. Freeze until firm, about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Bake, rotating halfway through, just until crust turns golden brown, 20 to 22 minutes. Let cool in dish on a wire rack.

Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees.

Make the filling: Whisk together pumpkin, heavy cream, sugar, vanilla, salt, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, and eggs in a large bowl. Pour filling into prepared piecrust.

Place dish on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake, rotating halfway through, until filling is just set and slightly puffed but still a bit wobbly, 65 to 70 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack, and let cool completely. Refrigerate, uncovered, for at least 6 hours. (Pie can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.) Serve chilled, topped with whipped cream if desired.


Torta di Pere [Bittersweet Chocolate and Pear Cake]
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, who cleverly convinced Al Di La restaurant to share the recipe

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 eggs, at room-temperature
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 vanilla bean
3 pears, peeled, in a small dice [I used Bosc]
3/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chunks

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch springform pan and dust with flour or breadcrumbs.

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together, set aside.

Using a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the eggs on high speed until pale and very thick. [This will take at least 5 minutes, depending on your equipment.]

While the eggs are whipping, brown the butter. Place the rest of the butter in a medium saucepan. Slice the vanilla bean lengthwise down the center, and using a paring knife to scrape the seeds and pulp onto the butter. Add the vanilla pod to the pan, and cook the butter until the butter browns and smells nutty, about 6 to 8 minutes. Scrape the solids off the bottom of the pan in the last couple minutes to ensure even browning. Set aside. Remove the vanilla pod and discard.

Add the sugar and vanilla to the eggs and whip a few minutes more. Just as the egg-sugar mixture is starting to loose volume, turn the mixture down to stir, and add the flour mixture and brown butter. Add one third of the flour mixture, then half of the butter, a third of the flour, the remaining butter, and the rest of flour. Whisk until just barely combined — no more than a minute from when the flour is first added — and then use a spatula to gently fold the batter until the ingredients are combined. It is very important not to over-whisk or fold the batter or it will lose volume.

Pour into prepared pan. Sprinkle the pear and chocolate chunks over the top, and bake until the cake is golden brown and springs back to the touch, about 40 to 50 minutes, or a tester comes out clean.

Monday, November 23, 2009

roasted winter squash and parsnips with maple syrup and marcona almonds

Like I've said before, when it comes to squash and sweet potato preparations, I overwhelmingly prefer the savory—excluding desserts, that is. But this dish, even with its maple syrup glaze, manages to get the sweet-salty balance just right. It's in large part thanks to the addition of toasted Marcona almonds, a blinged-out, why-didn't-I-think-of-that-before upgrade to the homely panko. All things considered, it's a perfect Thanksgiving compromise.

Roasted Winter Squash and Parsnips with Maple Syrup and Marcona Almonds
Adapted from Bon Appetít

Serves 6-8

2 cups 1/2-inch cubes peeled kabocha squash (about 1 1/2 pounds)
2 cups 1/2-inch cubes peeled butternut squash (about 1 1/2 pounds)
2 cups 1/4- to 1/3-inch cubes peeled parsnips (about 12 ounces)
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
salt and freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup coarsely chopped Marcona almonds (about 3 1/2 ounces)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter 11x7x2-inch glass baking dish.

Combine kabocha and butternut squash and parsnips in large bowl. Melt butter in small saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the maple syrup, garlic, and rosemary. Add butter to squash mixture and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer mixture to prepared baking dish. [Can be made 1 day ahead: Cover and chill. Bring to room temperature before continuing.]

Cover squash mixture with foil. Bake covered 40 minutes. Uncover; bake until all vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes longer. Sprinkle with almonds and bake 10 more minutes.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

roasted sweet potato rounds with garlic oil and fried sage

I feel sorry for the sweet potato. Is there any vegetable more often defiled on the Thanksgiving table? It suffers countless humiliations, from miniature marshmallows to shredded coconut (in Paula Deen's world, both)—all before the dessert course even arrives. Don't get me wrong—I'm all for indulging one's sweet tooth—but I've never met a candied yam I truly enjoyed.

Which brings me to these roasted sweet potato rounds. Whoever devised this recipe clearly understands that a sweet potato is, by definition, sweet, and doesn't require any confectionary spin. Here they're roasted in garlic oil then tossed with fried sage leaves (which are by themselves a revelation). It's a simple, ridiculously tasty, and most of all dignified end for my tuberous friends.

Roasted Sweet Potato Rounds with Garlic Oil and Fried Sage
Adapted from Gourmet

Serves 4

3 large garlic cloves
1/3 cup olive oil
2 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced into 1/2-inch-thick rounds
24 sage leaves
salt

Preheat oven to 450 degrees with rack in upper third.

Heat oil in a small heavy skillet over medium-high heat until it shimmers, then fry sage leaves in 2 batches, stirring, until crisp, 30 seconds to 1 minute per batch. Transfer with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain. Reserve the oil.

Purée garlic with 1/4 cup of reserved olive oil and 3/4 teaspoon salt in a blender until smooth. [You can also use fresh olive oil; I was looking to infuse more sage flavor.] Toss sweet potatoes with garlic oil in a large bowl, then spread in 1 layer in a 15-by 10-inch shallow baking pan. Bake until golden in patches and cooked through, 20 to 30 minutes. Serve sweet potatoes with sage leaves scattered on top.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

unlocking the carrot

"I know of no other preparation in the Italian repertory, or in other cuisines for that matter, more successful than this one in freeing the rich flavor that is locked inside the carrot." A bold claim, to be sure. But if you're Marcella Hazan, maven of Italian cuisine, you know you have the goods to back it up.

Alas, there's no secret ingredient, or trick to her technique. The real art to this preparation is patience: one and a half hours of quiet observation (and quality control) as the homely carrot round transforms into something buttery, caramelized, and f--ing delicious.

This next recipe, adapted from Tony Maws of Craigie on Maine, is less authentically carrot-y, perhaps, but uniquely boozy and wonderful. Carrots emerge from the pan rich and perfumy, with a deep garnet-red glaze.


***


Braised Carrots with Parmesan Cheese
Adapted from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan

It's hard to think of ways to improve on this recipe. Next time, I might experiment with some combination of chicken stock and water, to see if that will tease out some extra richness.

Serves 4

2 pounds carrots
1/3 teaspoon sugar
4-5 tablespoons butter
Salt
3 tablespoons freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese

Peel the carrots, wash them in cold water, and slice them into 3/8 inch disks. The thin tapered ends can be cut thicker. Using one large or two medium saute pans, spread the carrot rounds in a single snug layer, without overlapping. Add the butter, and enough water to come ¼ inch up the sides. Turn on the heat to medium.

Cook until the water has evaporated, then add salt and the ¼ teaspoon sugar. Continue cooking, adding from 2-3 tablespoons water as needed. Your objective is to end up with well-browned, wrinkled carrot disks, concentrated in flavor and texture. It will take about 1 hour, during which time you must watch them, even while you do other things in the kitchen. Stop adding water when they begin to reach the wrinkled, browned stage, because there must be no liquid left in the end. In about 30 minutes, the carrots will become so reduced in bulk that, if you have been using two pans, you will be able to combine them in a single pan.

When done—they should be very tender—add the grated Parmesan, turn the carrots over completely once or twice, and transfer them to a warm platter.


Pan-Roasted Carrots in Red Wine
Adapted from Tony Maws

Serves 4

2 pounds of carrots, peeled and sliced

2-3 tablespoons butter

salt and freshly ground pepper

1 cup full-bodied red wine

1 cup stock or water

Chopped chives and parsley

Saute carrots in butter, salt and pepper until slightly brown—about 10 minutes—or until the juices are released, stirring occasionally.

Add red wine and stir to combine pan juices and goodies. Cook until liquid is reduced to a syrup consistency. Add stock or water. Cover and continue cooking on very low heat until carrots are tender. If necessary, reduce liquid until thick. Add one tablespoon butter and chopped chives and/or parsley. Test for seasoning.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

two pumpkin pie alternatives

Alternatives may be the wrong word. For me, classic pumpkin pie is irreplaceable—a prerequisite for any up-to-par Thanksgiving table. But, while I'm not off looking for pumpkin pie substitutes, I still welcome any opportunity to sample a new squash dessert (preferably for breakfast).

As such, in the past month I've experimented with a couple of more avant-garde pumpkin recipes, just to test the waters. The first is from Pichet Ong, and to my mind it's enough to catapult him into pastry immortality:

This kabocha squash pie feels like a hybrid dessert—part pie, part cheesecake. (The 10 ounces of cream cheese, I suppose, place it decidedly in the second category, but they don't hijack the experience.)

It all starts with a walnut-graham cracker crust, which I highly recommend you dog-ear and export for future cheesecakes. It's genius (lime zest!), and, coupled with the slight twang of the pie filling and (to gild the lily) a generous drizzle of ginger-butterscotch sauce, totally addictive. I'll be honest, Mr. Ong nearly made me reconsider my no-pumpkin-pie-substitutes dictate.

The second specimen is a little harder to wrap my mind around, in part because it represents my greatest baking failure—aesthetically and emotionally—to date. Made with fresh sweet potatoes, pumpkin, and coconut milk, it's called Cazuela Pie, and Regan Daley (whom I generally trust) claims that it’s a personal favorite. (“It beats the pants off regular pumpkin pies!” she writes.) Oh, that I might say the same.

See that horrible fault line slashing down the left side? The soupy bog that's formed in the center (a refrigeration error on my part)? Those are just the start of my grievances—they don't account for the miserable 45 minutes spent sieving sweet potato (food mill, where art thou?); or the distracted moment in which I mistook cumin for ginger (don't worry, I fished it out...I think); or repeated botched attempts to cover the crust with tinfoil.

I naively hoped that, despite these mishaps, the pie would end in success. And it did, sort of. Texturally, once you got past the cosmetic issues, it was excellent. But I'm not 100% sold on the flavor. Cazuela was missing the classic spice profile I've come to desire in a pumpkin dessert, and the coconut milk was perhaps a little too sweet?

That said, seconds were had by many. And two people said they preferred this to classic pumpkin pie. Maybe you will too? For me there's a bit too much baggage here to be objective—this pie will forever serve as a reminder of my shortcomings. Approach it with an open mind, and a food mil, and I suspect you may feel differently.

***


Kabocha Squash Pie
Adapted from Pichet Ong

If you're not up for breaking down a kobocha, substitute 2 1/2 cups of canned pumpkin. I promise it will still be delicious.

For the filling:
1 medium kabocha squash, about 3 pounds or 2 1/2 cups of canned pumpkin
10 ounces (1 1/3 cups) cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg (about 1/4 of a nutmeg)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons brandy
2 eggs at room temperature

For the crust:
3/4 cup (2 ounces) walnuts
1/2 cup, packed, light brown sugar
3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs (about 7 crackers)
Grated zest of 1 lime
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup (2 ounces) butter, melted
Crème fraîche or whipped cream, for serving
Ginger butterscotch sauce, for serving (see recipe)

For pie filling, bring an inch of water to a boil in a large covered pot fitted with a steamer basket or rack. Put in squash, cover and steam, replenishing water as needed, until fork tender, about 1 hour. Turn squash over halfway through steaming. Set squash aside until cool enough to handle.

Heat oven to 325 degrees. For crust, place walnuts on a baking tray, and toast in oven, stirring once or twice, until fragrant, about 15 minutes. Let cool. Reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees.

In a food processor, combine walnuts with a few tablespoons brown sugar and pulse a few times, until nuts are coarsely ground. In a large bowl, whisk nuts with graham cracker crumbs, remaining brown sugar, lime zest, spices and salt. Pour melted butter over this mixture, and mix with your fingers until butter is distributed. Press evenly into a 10-inch glass pie plate. Bake crust until lightly browned, about 12 minutes, then set aside. Keep oven at 300 degrees.

When squash is cool, cut it in half and scoop out seeds and pulp. Scoop squash flesh into a measuring cup until you have 2 1/2 cups.

In a food processor, process cream cheese with sugar, spices and salt until light and smooth. Scrape down bowl, add squash and process until smooth. Mix in brandy and then eggs, one at a time. Finish mixing with a rubber spatula.

Place pie plate on a baking sheet and scrape filling into crust. Bake until just set in center, about 1 hour. Let cool before serving, topped with whipped cream or crème fraîche and drizzled with butterscotch sauce.

Ginger Butterscotch Sauce
Adapted from Pichet Ong

1/2 pound dark brown sugar
1 1/4 ounces (about 2 inches) fresh ginger root, peeled and sliced into coins
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, pulp scraped
5 tablespoons (5 ounces) unsalted butter, cubed
1 cups heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon salt

1. Place sugar, ginger and vanilla pod and pulp in a heavy pot set over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until sugar is molten and fragrant with ginger and vanilla, about 8 minutes. (It won't melt entirely but will be somewhat crumbly.) Add butter (stand back, it will foam up), and stir until melted and smooth, about 2 minutes.

Pour cream and salt into pot, stirring, and bring to a simmer. Let sauce bubble until thickened, about 8 minutes. Let cool for at least 1/2 hour, then strain out ginger and vanilla pod. Warm sauce before serving. [This sauce will keep for up to 2 weeks in refrigerator.]



Cazuela Pie
Adapted from In The Sweet Kitchen, by Regan Daley

Make sure the pie shell is thoroughly chilled to ensure the pastry won't over-bake during the long cooking time needed for the dense filling. If necessary, cover the crust with aluminum foil to prevent burning.

2 unbaked and well-chilled pie pastries, used to line 9 1/2 -inch glass pie dishes
2 1/2 pounds orange sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1 1/4 cups water
1 large cinnamon stick, broken into pieces
5 whole cloves
1 star anise, crumbled
1 1/2 -inch-long piece of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
4 cups pumpkin puree
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons tightly packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 cup good-quality canned coconut milk (stir the contents of the can well before measuring)
Whipped cream, to serve

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Place the sweet potato chunks in a single layer in one large or two medium shallow, ceramic baking dish(es). Add the water, dividing it between the two dishes if necessary. The water should be about 1/2 inch deep; add more if the level is lower than this. Scatter the pieces of cinnamon stick, cloves, pieces of star anise and ginger slices among the sweet potatoes. Cover the baking dishes securely with aluminum foil and place in the preheated oven. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until the sweet potatoes are very tender when pierced with the tip of a sharp knife.

Remove the potatoes from the dishes and force them through a ricer, food mill, or sieve. Let cool. Strain the baking liquid, discarding the solids, and measure. You want about 1/2 cup of liquid; if you have less, add enough fresh water to make 1/2 cup; if you have more, simmer the liquid in a small saucepan on the stove over high heat until it is reduced to about 1/2 cup. Let the liquid cool. [The pumpkin, sweet potato and spiced liquid can all be prepared up to 3 days ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator. Bring each to room temperature before proceeding with the recipe.]

Increase the oven temperature to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, combine the pumpkin and sweet potato purees and stir to blend well. Beat in the eggs, then stir in the melted butter and reserved spice liquid. In a separate bowl, stir together the granulated and brown sugars with a wire whisk. Sift the flour and salt over the sugars and stir to blend. Add the sugar-flour mixture to the pumpkin mixture and stir well until there are no pockets of sugar visible. Blend in the coconut milk.

Scrape the filling into the two chilled pie shells, dividing it evenly and smoothing the tops. Place the pies in the lower half of the preheated oven and bake for 1 3/4 to 2 hours, turning the pies several times so they bake evenly. The point of a thin-bladed knife should come out clean when inserted into the center of the filling, and the surface should be unevenly cracked. If the edges of the pastry seem to be darkening too much before the filling is cooked, cover them with strips of aluminum foil. Transfer the pies to wire racks and cool completely before serving with lightly sweetened whipped cream.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

applesauce-chocolate chip bundt cake

Applesauce and chocolate chips: two great tastes that taste great... together?

I'll admit I was skeptical, even when this cake emerged from the oven beautifully copper-toned and smelling of cloves. The cake got a similarly tepid reception from our dinner companions—in particular, a discerning three-year-old, who seemed confused and possibly offended by the unconventional flavor combination.

Her first approach to the cake was that of a practiced surgeon, carefully plucking out the melted tablets of chocolate and dusting off the surrounding crumbs. A few minutes in (and, I think, realizing the fair percentage of cake she was forfeiting through excavation), she took a tentative bite of the remaining, intact slice. Then another, then another—with a slowly dawning look of discovery.

Her expression mirrored my own experience, as skepticism yielded to tenuous like, and then to quiet triumph. This is a cake that grows on you until, hours later, you're still thinking about it, still wondering at the collaboration of chocolate and spice, the subtle piquancy of black pepper. Damn, I may be overselling it now. But I doubt it.


Applesauce-Chocolate Chip Bundt Cake
Adapted from Food & Wine

This is an all-purpose, any-occasion cake—M. was snacking on leftovers for breakfast, lunch and dessert. We initially served the cake with vanilla ice cream, but it was better the next day with a healthy dollop of whipped cream.

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 cups unsweetened applesauce
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
One 12-ounce bag semisweet-chocolate chips
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 12-cup Bundt pan.

In a large bowl, whisk the flour with the granulated sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, cardamom, salt, cloves and pepper. Whisk in the applesauce, eggs, oil and melted butter. Fold in the chocolate chips.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few crumbs attached.

Transfer the pan to a rack and let the cake cool for 10 minutes, then invert it onto the rack and let cool completely, about 20 minutes. Sift confectioners’ sugar over the cake, slice and serve with whipped cream. [The cake can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to three days.]

Monday, November 2, 2009

roasted banana ice cream

I recently came into some egg yolks. Fifteen egg yolks, to be exact, which were orphaned in the name of egg-white omelets. Hoping to wield my culinary resourcefulness, I set out to find some suitably yolk-heavy recipes to make that evening. Of course, my thoughts turned to the custard family: puddings, crème brûlée, and then—genius!—ice cream, which seemed perfect given our oft-perused but underutilized copy of The Perfect Scoop.

After considerable yo-yoing between recipes (Guinness-Milk Chocolate or Malted Milk? Tin Roof or Butterscotch Pecan?), I settled on Lebovitz’s Roasted Banana Ice Cream, finally persuaded by the three bananas languishing on our butcher block and memories of a killer roasted banana and hot fudge combination from Bi-Rite Creamery.

It wasn’t until I removed the bananas from the oven—a chunky golden mash veined with deep brown caramel—and rereading the procedure, that I realized my mistake: Of all the ice cream recipes in the book, I had chosen one of the few sans egg yolks. D’oh.

Yes, I felt a bit defeated when scooping out the final product. But the remedy was immediate, and intensely delicious.


Roasted Banana Ice Cream
Adapted from The Perfect Scoop, by David Lebovitz

3 medium ripe bananas, peeled
1/3 cup (70g) light brown sugar
1 tablespoon butter, cut into small pieces
1½ cups (375ml) whole milk
2 tablespoons sugar
1½ teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Slice the bananas into ½-inch pieces and toss with the brown sugar and butter. Place in a small baking dish and bake for 40 minutes, stirring once during baking. The bananas will be browned and cooked through.

Scrape the bananas and caramel into a blender. Add the milk, sugar, vanilla, lemon juice and salt, and puree until smooth.

Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator, then freeze in the ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.