Monday 31 March 2008

TWD: Gooey Chocolate Cakes

Once again, its time for TWD! I've found that its the perfect solution to Monday blues since every Monday night (if I've procrastinated, which is usually the case), I have a Dorie baking session to look forward to! This week, the chosen recipe was Dorie's Gooey Chocolate Cake aka molten chocolate cake or chocolate fondant.

While I've made this type of cake many times, I've actually never tried Dorie's recipe so I was definitely looking forward to giving it a go. Molten chocolate cake is one of those cakes that is almost universally loved - you can find it on just about every restaurant's dessert menu - but is so quick and easy to whip up.

After having read the problems and questions post on the TWD blog, I decided to reduce the cooking time in order to ensure that I had a gooey inside. As such, instead of 13 minutes, I decided to bake mine for 11. I must have an oven that runs cold though because I think I could have easily left it in for at least another minute. No matter though - the cake was still absolutely delicious, if a little more gooey than normal! Next time you have unexpected dinner guests, this is your go to recipe because you can have it on the table in under 30 minutes tops.

Gooey Chocolate Cake
From Baking: From My Home to Yours

1/3 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon salt
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate,
4 ounces coarsely chopped,
1 ounce very finely chopped
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
6 tablespoons of sugar

Getting ready: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. butter (or spray – it’s easier) 6 cups of a regular-size muffin pan, preferably a disposable aluminum foil pan, dust the insides with flour and tap out the excess. Put the muffin pan on a baking sheet.

Sift the flour, cocoa and salt together.

Set a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of gently simmering water, put the coarsely chopped chocolate and the butter in the bowl and stir occasionally over the simmering water just until they are melted – you don’t want them to get so hot that the butter separates. Remove the bowl from the pan of water.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and yolk until homogenous. Add the sugar and whisk until well blended, about 2 minutes. Add the dry ingredients and, still using the whisk, stir (don’t beat) them into the eggs. Little by little, and using a light hand, stir in the melted chocolate and butter. Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups and sprinkle the finely chopped chocolate over the batter.

Bake the cakes for 13 minutes. Transfer them, still on the baking sheet, to a rack to cool for 3 minutes. (There is no way to test that these cakes are properly baked, because the inside remains liquid.)

Line a cutting board with a silicone baking mat or parchment or wax paper, and, after the 3-minute rest, unmold the cakes onto the board. Use a wide metal spatula to lift the cakes onto dessert plates.
Makes 6 servings

Thursday 20 March 2008

Back to Tuesdays with Dorie!

After missing the last 2 TWDs, I was determined not to let another week go by without making this important appointment. So as soon as I got a chance , which turned out to be Wednesday night the week before, I got started on my Caramel-Topped Flan, this week’s recipe chosen by Steph of A Whisk and A Spoon.

Now I’ve never made Crème Caramel before, even though I do enjoy it, and was amazed by just how quick it was to make. The caramel, given the 1/3 quantity I was making, was done in 5-7 minutes tops. The custard itself took only about 5 minutes to heat up and mix together. The only slight hassle is having to set up the baking tray with hot water to bake the custard, but honestly speaking, as long as you can read and follow instructions, its really not a big deal.

After 35 minutes in the oven, my caramel has puffed up slightly, as the book said it would so I slid it out, ran my knife around the edge to loosen it and let it cool. I unmolded mine the next day after a night in the fridge and it slid out very easily with the caramel oozing out to coat the custard. The taste, needless to say, was divine – as all Dorie’s recipes are.

To see the rest of the TWD's efforts, please check out the blogroll here.

Caramel-Topped Flan
For the Caramel
1/3 cup sugar
3 tbsp water
squirt of fresh lemon juice

For the Flan
1-1/2 cups heavy cream
1-1/4 cups whole milk
3 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Getting Ready:
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a roasting pan or a 9-x-13-inch baking pan with a double thickness of paper towels. Fill a teakettle with water and put it on to boil; when the water boils, turn off the heat.Put a metal 8-x-2-inch round cake pan-not a nonstick one-in the oven to heat while you prepare the caramel.

To Make the Caramel:
Stir the sugar, water and lemon juice together in a small heavy-bottomed saucepan. Put the pan over medium-high heat and cook until the sugar becomes an amber-colored caramel, about 5 minutes-remove the pan from the heat at the first whiff of smoke.Remove the cake pan from the oven and, working with oven mitts, pour the caramel into the pan and immediately tilt the pan to spread the caramel evenly over the bottom; set the pan aside.

To Make the Flan:
Bring the cream and milk just to a boil.Meanwhile, in a 2-quart glass measuring cup or in a bowl, whisk together the eggs, yolks and sugar. Whisk vigorously for a minute or two, and then stir in the vanilla. Still whisking, drizzle in about one quarter of the hot liquid-this will temper, or warm, the eggs so they won't curdle. Whisking all the while, slowly pour in the remainder of the hot cream and milk. Using a large spoon, skim off the bubbles and foam that you worked up.Put the caramel-lined cake pan in the roasting pan. Pour the custard into the cake pan and slide the setup into the oven. Very carefully pour enough hot water from the kettle into the roasting pan to come halfway up the sides of the cake pan. (Don't worry if this sets the cake pan afloat.)

Bake the flan for about 35 minutes, or until the top puffs a bit and is golden here and there. A knife inserted into the center of the flan should come out clean.Remove the roasting pan from the oven, transfer the cake pan to a cooking rack and run a knife between the flan and the sides of the pan to loosen it. Let the flan cool to room temperature on the rack, then loosely cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

When ready to serve, once more, run a knife between the flan and the pan. Choose a rimmed serving platter, place the platter over the cake pan, quickly flip the platter and pan over and remove the cake pan-the flan will shimmy out and the caramel sauce will coat the custard.

Makes 6 to 8 Servings

Tuesday 18 March 2008

Missing Tuesday with Dorie...

Its been a really busy time lately and without me really noticing, I've missed two tuesdays with Dorie in a row. Reading about all the other member's entries about their Russian grandmother's apple cake and the deliciously tantalizing brioche raisin snails makes me realize just how much I've missed out. In keeping with the spirit of the group, I'll most definitely be back for the rest of the month. In fact, I'm going to get me a headstart on next week's challenge tomorrow night.

Wednesday 12 March 2008

Cookies for charity

The London marathon is in a month's time (yikes!) and I'm still somewhat shy of my fundraising goal of £1,500. Like many people who apply for the marathon through the ballot, I didn't get a spot so I decided to pursue my dream while raising money for a worthwhile cause. In my case, as an animal lover, I'm raising money for Care for the Wild International, an animal conservation charity.

Unlike some of the charities that are fielding hundreds of runners at the event, CWI has just 7 of us. While it means that every pound we raise will mean more to them, it also means that the pressure not to let them down is even stronger. 

To supplement my fundraising efforts thus far, I am planning to ask my colleagues if they will help sponsor my marathon. As a thank you (or a bribe), I baked up a batch of these decadent white chocolate chunk cookies and will bring them into the office tomorrow. I'm hoping this will do the trick. Judging by the lovely smell wafting through my kitchen at the moment, I have high hopes.

White Chocolate Chunk-Oatmeal Cookies
Adapted from The Essential Baker

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups rolled oats (not quick cooking)
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
8 oz unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 extra-large egg, at room temperature
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
10 oz white chocolate, cut into small chunks
1/2 cup toasted macadamia nuts, coarsely chopped
1 cup dried cranberries

Adjust the oven racks to the upper and lower thirds and preheat the oven to 375F. Line the baking sheets with parchment paper or non-stick liners.

Over a large piece of waxed or parchment paper or a bowl, combine the flour, oats, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Stir or toss to blend together thoroughly.

Place the butter in the bowl of an electric stand mixer or in a large bowl. Use the flat beater attachment or a hand-held mixer to beat the butter on medium speed until it's fluffy, about 2 minutes.

Add the brown sugar and granulated sugar to the butter and cream together completely. Stop occasionally and scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula.

Using a fork, lightly beat the egg and vanilla together in a small bowl. Add to the butter mixture and blend thoroughly. The egg will sit on top of the butter mixture, so be sure to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl to help mix evenly. The mixture may look curdled as the eggs are added, but as you stop and scrape down the bowl, the mixture will smooth out.

Add the dry ingredients in 4 stages, blending completely after each addition. Stop occasionally and scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula to ensure even mixing.
Add the white chocolate chunks, macadamia nuts, and dried cranberries and stir to distribute evenly.

Use a large spoon or a small ice cream scoop to scoop out mounds about 2 inches in diameter. Place the mounds on the baking sheets, leaving 2 inches of space between them so they have room to expand as they bake.

Bake the cookies for  minutes. Switch the baking sheets and bake another 5 to 6 minutes, until the cookies are set and light golden.

Remove the baking sheets from the oven and cool the cookies completely on the baking sheets on racks. Carefully remove the cookies from the parchment paper or nonstick liners. 

Makes 5 dozen cookies

Friday 7 March 2008

Chinese, or not?

On every Chinese restaurant menu in the US, you're almost guaranteed to find Chicken with Broccoli. I have to confess that growing up, this was not a dish that was served in my family. Its one of those dishes that doesn't really exist in China but has become ubiquitous in the Western world - much like fortune cookies which you'll never see in  China.

Regardless of its authenticity or lack there-of, it is a dish that I do enjoy so I have no problems serving it up in my kitchen. Its relatively light and healthy, and broccoli is, by far, one of my favourite veggies - I have no idea why it gets such a bad rep. Serve this dish with a generous portion of steamed rice. 

Sliced Chicken with Broccoli
Adapted from Shun Lee Cookbook

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 large egg white
2 tbsp cornstarch
3/4 tsp salt
4 cups plus 1/3 cup chicken stock
10 ounces broccoli florets
1 tsp sugar
 2 tbsp rice wine
Vegetable oil
2 scallions, white part only, trimmed and minced
3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

Slice chicken breasts in half horizontally. Flatten the chicken breasts by pounding them on both sides with the flat side of a cleaver or a flat meat mallet until 1/8 inch thick. Slice the meat on a shallow diagonal to make 1-inch wide strips. Cut the strips into 1 1/2-inch pieces.

Mix the chicken, egg white, 1 tbsp of the cornstarch, and 1/4 tsp of the salt in a medium bowl. Set it aside.

Bring the 4 cups chicken stock to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Add the broccoli, and cook it is crisp-tender, about 1 1/2 minutes. Transfer the vegetables to a strainer to drain, and discard the broth.

Mix the remaining 1/3 cup chicken stock with the remaining 1/2 tsp salt, the sugar and the rice wine in a small bowl. Dissolve the remaining 1 tbsp corn starch in 3 tbsp cold water in a small bowl. Set the bowls aside.

Heat a large wok over high heat. Add enough oil to come about 1 inch up the sides of the wok, add heat it to 300F. Add the chicken pieces, a few at a time, and stir gently, so the pieces don't stick to each other, until the chicken turns white, about 1 minute. Using a wide wire-mesh strainer, transfer the chicken to a colander to drain. Discard all but 2 tbsp of the oil from the wok.

Return the wok with the oil to high heat. Add the scallions and garlic, and stir fry until the garlic is fragrant, about 10 seconds. Add the stock mixture and the cornstarch-mixture, and bring to a boil. Return the chicken and broccoli to the wok, and stir-fry until the sauce has thickened, about 30 seconds. Serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings

What's cooking?

For the longest time, nothing! I've mentioned before my dislike of cooking for one and since M has been away in Paris on a project, there have been virtually no home-cooked dinners in this household for a long time. Tonight, I decided to break out of this rut and stopped by Whole Foods, which I absolutely adore, to pick up some fresh, albeit over-priced, groceries. 

In the spirit of carbo-loading in advance of our long run tomorrow, I decided to go with Chicken, asparagus and shiitake mushroom risotto. Now, risotto, in my mind, gets a bad rep for being time-consuming to make. While it is true that you do have to constantly stir the pot, you really only need to do so for half an hour or so. This may be 30 minutes more than one can spare on a weekday, but for a Friday night, its easy as pie. And when the rewards are as sumptuous and creamy  as this is, that's 30 minutes well spent.

Chicken, asparagus and shiitake mushroom risotto
Adapted from Gourmet

5 cups chicken broth
1 cup water
1 lb thin to medium asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1/4 inch thick slices
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 stick unsalted butter
3/4 lb fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded and caps cut into 1/4-inch thick slices
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 oz finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Bring broth and water to a boil in a 4-quart pot. Add asparagus and cook, uncovered, until crisp-tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer asparagus with a slotted spoon to a large bowl of ice and cold water to stop cooking, then drain and pat dry. Keep broth at a bare simmer, covered.

Poach chicken breasts in broth until done, about 7-8 minutes. Remove chicken from the broth and set aside to rest for 10 minutes before cutting into 1/4 inch slices.

Heat oil with 1 tsp butter in a 4-quart heavy saucepan over moderately high heat until foam subsides, then saute mushrooms, stirring occasionally, until browned, about 4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, then transfer to a bowl.

Cook onion in 2 tbsp butter in saucepan over moderate heat, stirring, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add rice and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add wine and cook, stirring, until absorbed, about 1 minute.

Ladle in 1 cup simmering broth and cook at a strong simmer, stirring, until absorbed, about 2 minutes. Continue simmering and adding broth, about 1/2 cup at a time, stirring frequently and letting each addition be absorbed before adding next, until rice is just tender and looks creamy, 18 to 20 minutes. Save any leftover broth for thinning.

Remove from heat and stir in 1/2 cup cheese, remaining tbsp butter, and salt and pepper to taste. Gently stir in asparagus and mushrooms, then cover pan and let stand 1 minute. If desired, thin risotto with some of remaining broth. Serve immediately with remaining cheese on the side.

Makes 4 main-course servings

Monday 3 March 2008

Another Tuesday with Dorie

Its amazing how quickly times flies when you are having fun. This past weekend, I was up in Paris again for a short trip with M. In addition to the usual shopping and eating that typically accompanies a trip to the city of lights, M and I also took part in the Paris half marathon on Sunday.

It was my first experience doing a race with 19,000 competitors and of such a distance, and it was absolutely FANTASTIC! First, since we've been logging many 20+km runs in the run-up to the marathon, we weren't at all nervous about this race. Second, seeing that many people run en masse makes you feel like you should run harder and faster. Third, the spectators and bands all along the course yelling out encouragement was even more motivation to do your best. I was extremely happy with my time, coming in almost 10 minutes faster than I had hoped.

It was tough to top the high of the race, but after getting back to London, I got the chance to tackle the next TWD challenge - Snickery Squares! Now, I've had my eye on this recipe for a while but never had an excuse to make it. I wasn't able to find dulce de leche in my neighbourhood grocery store so I ended up making my own. The squares were absolutely delicious and just like Dorie described - sophisticated Snickers bars. If you're a peanut fan, this one's for you!

Snickery Squares

For the Crust:
1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup sugar
2 tbsp powdered sugar
¼ tsp salt1 stick unsalted butter, cut into small pieces and chilled
1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten

For the Filling:
½ cup sugar
3 tbsp water
1 ½ cups salted peanuts
About 1 ½ cups store-bought dulce de leche

For the Topping:
7 ounces bittersweet, coarsely chopped
½ stick unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces, at room temperature

Getting Ready:
Preheat oven to 350F. Butter a 8 inch square pan and put it on a baking sheet.

To Make the Crust:
Toss the flour, sugar, powdered sugar and salt into a food processor and pulse a few times to combine. Toss in the pieces of cold butter and pulse about 12 times, until the mixture looks like coarse meal. Pour the yolk over the ingredients and pulse until the dough forms clumps and curds-stop before the dough comes together in a ball.

Turn the dough into the buttered pan and gently press it evenly across the bottom of the pan. Prick the dough with a fork and slide the sheet into the oven.Bake the crust for 15-20 minutes, or until it takes on just a little color around the edges. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool to room temperature before filling.

To Make the Filling:
Have a parchment or silicone mat-lined baking sheet at the ready, as well as a long-handled wooden spoon and a medium heavy bottomed saucepan.Put the sugar and water in the saucepan and cook over medium-high heat, stirring, until the sugar dissolves. Keeping the heat fairly high, continue to cook the sugar, without stirring, until it just starts to color. Toss the peanuts and immediately start stirring. Keep stirring, to coat the peanuts with sugar. Within a few minutes, they will be covered with sugar and turn white—keep stirring until the sugar turns back into caramel. When the peanuts are coated with a nice deep amber caramel, remove the pan from the heat and turn the nuts out onto the baking sheet., using the wooden spoon to spread them out as best you can. Cool the nuts to room temperature.

When they are cool enough to handle, separate the nuts or break them into small pieces. Divide the nuts in half. Keep half of the nuts whole or in biggish pieces for the filling, and finely chop the other half for the topping.Spread the dulce de leche over the shortbread base and sprinkle over the whole candied nuts.

To Make the Topping:
Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water. Remove chocolate from the heat and gently stir in the butter, stirring until it is fully blended into the chocolate.Pour the chocolate over the dulce de leche, smoothing it with a long metal icing spatula, then sprinkle over the rest of the peanuts. Slide the pan into the fridge to set the topping, about 20 minutes; if you’d like to serve the squares cold, keep them refrigerated for at least 3 hours before cutting.

Cut into 16 bars.

Makes 16 squares