Tuesday, May 15, 2012

I've moved!

Hello, wonderful readers! I'm sad to say that I will no longer be updating on Blogger, and have moved to a new domain.

You can now find me at http://thebakedbeen.wordpress.com.

I will leave this blog up, so all the recipes will still be available. However, all new updates will be made at the new site. I'm sad to be leaving and thank you all for a wonderful journey! If you're still interested in my culinary adventures, be sure to visit my new page.

Wishing you sunny days and happy meals!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

pineapple upside-down cake

"A mother is a person who, seeing there are only four pieces of pie for five people, promptly announces she never did care for pie."
-Tenneva Jordan

Mother's Day is always somewhat of a blur; I mean, spending the 2 weeks leading up to the weekend with nothing but caffeine running through one's veins and a mountain of books strewn across every flat surface in an attempt to teach oneself a semester's worth of financial math is enough to leave one feeling exhausted and irritable, let alone in the right state of my mind to remember such an event even happens.

But this year is this last year my grandmother will be spending with us here in the States, so mom wanted to make it special.

And, since she's my mum and all, I figured the least I could do was help a bit.

It was nothing terribly fancy; just a big brunch at our place with the four of us, and my aunt and uncle and cousins came by as well. Mom did the cooking - some [incredible] Pakistani food she knew my grandmother would enjoy - and I the baking and dessert - a few batches of buttermilk scones, shir berenj, and a simple, classic pineapple upside-down cake.

Nine people, ten dishes, and a small get-together to celebrate the women in our lives.

[Plus, a lovely way to get back some of the energy finals drained out of me.]

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake
Adapted from Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home.

For the pan schmear, you'll need:

  • 1 stick butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 tbsp honey
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp dark rum [substitute with rum extract if desired]
  • vanilla extract 
  • pinch of salt

For the cake, you'll need:
  • 1 pineapple, chopped into equal-sized pieces [alternately, 1 can of pineapple rings will do]
  • 1 1/3 cups cake flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 stick butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp granulated sugar
  • vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tbsp plus 1 tsp milk

Preheat oven to 350F and grease and flour a 9-inch cake pan [not a springform pan].

To prepare the schmear:
Beat the butter, honey, brown sugar, rum, and vanilla on medium speed until smooth and well-blended. Spread 1/3-1/2 cup of the schmear over the bottom of the prepared cake pan, and sprinkle lightly with salt. (The remaining schmear can be refrigerated for up to 2 weeks or frozen up to 1 month).

Slice the pineapple (or drain from the can). Beginning at the perimeter of the pan, make an overlapping ring of pineapple slices with the curved side facing out. Make a second ring inside the first, overlapping the slices in the opposite direction. Work your way toward the center of the pan until bottom of the pan is covered. Set pan aside.

To prepare the cake:
Sift flour and baking powder and set aside. Beat butter and sugar and mix on low speed to combine, then medium speed for about 3 mins until light and fluffy. Mix in the vanilla. Add eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl between additions. Beat in the milk. Add the flour mixture in three batches, betting until just combined.

Gently pour the batter into the pan and spread over the pineapple. Bake for 15 mins, rotate the pan for an even browning, and bake for another 20-25 mins. Cool the cake in the pan atop a cooling rack for 20-30 mins. Invert the cake on a serving platter and serve warm.

The recipe actually comes from Thomas Keller's wonderful Ad Hoc at Home, one of four cookbooks published in the spirit of The French Laundry. I've not yet had the opportunity to dine at TFL myself, but I've been a longtime fan of Mr. Keller and this particular cookbook [it is, needless to say, among the 80 sitting on the shelf]. I typically do not offer recipes that I've used directly from printed books, but this one has been floating about the web for a while now, so I felt it was alright to share with you.

Which is good news, to be sure, as the cake is wonderful. Light, soft, tangy, and deliciously buttery. The shmear is absolute perfection, and I much prefer it to the typical caramelization required in a pineapple upside-down cake.

I lack a 9-inch silicone pan and so went with a regular pan, and must include a word of caution: the shmear works better with the silicone. If you are going to be using a normal pan, be generous with buttering it up prior.

In any case, this one turned out just fine. But why pineapple upside-down cake? Well, easy.

Mum's favorite.

I'm now back at the apartment, having left the 'rents behind earlier this afternoon in order to get a bit of work-time in this week, and am very much enjoying the quiet. It'll be a slow week, particularly since I'm here by myself for the time being, but one that I plan on spending with a few good books and a few good meals.

Although, I'm not sure any will match up to mum's quality of cooking, but I've got tons of time still for her to teach me. And maybe next year, I'll be the one cooking for Mother's Day.

Friday, April 27, 2012

armenian nutmeg cake [and a breather]

It has been an arduously long month, April. I can't deny that I'm happy to see it go, despite the unnerving reminder that the year is flying by whenever it comes time to post another DB challenge. A string of disappointments in regards to missed summer opportunities, though, has left me feeling hollow and inadequate these past few weeks. A terrible quality to have when coupled with particular academic shortcomings dispersed in between. I'm positive I've been quite the debbie-downer to behold for those around me as of late, and thus have spent the majority of my time, while not in class, sitting at home pouring over papers to scrape together decent term paper theses and assuring myself that the spring semester has not, in fact, gone totally to waste.

Nevertheless, sitting here in the comfort of a cozy coffee shop, warm mug of bottomless French roast in front of me [to which the barista grinned knowingly when I told him, under no uncertain terms, "give me the strongest you've got"], and small stack of philosophy texts by my side, I'm feeling settled. It's not currently the 27th, as is unsurprising since I rarely write these up on post dates, but after sitting in my room, distractedly alternating between John Rawls and Pottermore [unsurprisingly, Pottermore won out], and chancing a glance outside the window, I figured it was high time I got out of the house and back into some semblance of familiarity.

Staying cooped up in the apartment, lovely as it is, can be suffocating. A fact I discovered yesterday when Noosh and I took a drive Downtown to stroll through used bookshops, local boutiques, and cups of gelato [we both still deeply lament not purchasing a pint of goat cheese and fig ice cream while there], returning home feeling the most clear-headed I'd felt in weeks. So when I woke up to overcast skies and spent a few moments watching slow rain patter gently against my window, I realized I needed to get out.

I'm much less inclined to surf Pottermore in public, after all.

My coffee shop excursions were a constant last semester [as a means to get work done away from the distractions of my apartment], since I spent my Saturday mornings volunteering off grounds and easily drove myself to the nearest shop afterward, car on hand. This semester, though, aside from Monday night teaching sessions, my car stays stationed at the apartment and I find myself unnervingly dependent on the shuttle to get me to and from grounds.

Meaning, no caffeine IVs to help clear my head.

Today, however, a beautifully melancholy Sunday afternoon seemed the perfect time to take a step back, caffeinate, and make some real progress on work.

[Though, a small distraction for blog-writing seemed acceptable, particularly now that I've finally finished with Mr Rawls.]

A little chat with mom is also always enough to turn my mood right around.

Armenian Nutmeg Cake
Adapted from the April Daring Baker's Challenge

You'll need:

  • 1  cup milk
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 cups AP flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup [1 1/2 sticks] butter, cold and cut into cubes
  • 1 - 1 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup walnut pieces, chopped

Preheat oven to 350F and grease and flour a 9-inch springform pan. In a small bowl, combine milk and baking soda and let sit. In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and brown sugar. Cut in the cold butter, either in a food processor or in a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, until mixture comes together as a crumbly dough. Take half the dough and press it on the bottom on the prepared pan.

In a separate bowl, whisk egg and nutmeg until light and frothy, about 1 min using a stand mixer or 2-3 mins using a hand whisk. Pour in the milk and baking soda mixture and whisk until uniform. Pour wet ingredients into the remaining dough mixture and mix until blended. Pour the remaining batter on top of the base in the pan. Sprinkle the chopped walnuts over the top of the batter.

Bake for 35-40 mins, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow cake to cool in the pan for 10 mins before removing. Enjoy plain, or serve with fruit jam or sweetened cream.

Being at uni, away from home, living at the apartment and met with familiar sights day in and day out, having adjusted to an unsatisfying routine of classes, part time job #1, and part time job #2...it's easy to forget that there is more to the world than just my limited bubble of activity. I took each rejection in stride, on the surface, though inside felt like each blow was a few steps thrown down an already-delicate ladder of self-worth.

This isn't meant to be some sob-story, though; it's meant as a reminder to myself that nothing is ever as bad as my often narrow-minded self makes it out to be. A shock when this reminder came, not from me, but from my mother. I had called her up after yet another rejection, weary and exhausted, and all she responded with was along the following:

"It's alright. Keep applying, keep trying, keep putting yourself out there. And if it doesn't work out, take the summer to relax. Can jams, read, make some money, get some thesis research done, enjoy the time."

Perhaps not verbatim, but the words were laced under her reassurances, under the 'don't worry, it'll be okay, it's the last 'summer break' you'll be having for quite some time, after all, so no need to spend it lamenting over what could have been.' Simple, obvious, startling.

And yet, true. Things will work out the way they're meant to, after all. It's a motto I've always lived by, though it is, admittedly, hard to remember when you're on the receiving end of life's disappointments.

Though, I suppose, the disappointments are only as big as you make them out to be, in the end.

So I'll take what I've gotten. Write these term papers with calculated efficiency, submit more cover letters, finish up these next two weeks with optimism, power through finals and let go of a stressful semester, cherish small miracles like 21st birthdays [Nora, Liz, Tommy, Nathaniel - my heart goes out to all of you in congratulations and love], look forward to being able to turn to JRR Martin instead of JS Mill, bookmark recipes for blackberry-lemon preserve, and just take a breather.

Life's too short to linger on the disappointments, after all. There's too much else to look forward to.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

momofuku crack pie

Holy. Guacamole.

So, I now understand why Momofuku oh-so appropriately dubbed this a 'Crack Pie.' I mean, if I were in need of a serious hit, I'd rather dish out $44 for one of these than the more illegal alternative.

[Not to mention it's probably the cheapest crack you'll find in the US.]

Or I could, you know, just bake one of my own for the fraction of the cost, and get it whenever I need it.

Okay, so, if you read my NYC-rant back in December, you'll know that I am absolutely enamored with Momofuku Milk Bar. We visited the Milk Bar in Midtown about 4 times during our last two days in the city because I could not get enough of their trademarked Cereal Milk Milkshake.

Momofuku itself is just this radical restaurant chain owned by the glorious David Chang, though I myself have never had the opportunity to visit any of his critically-acclaimed lunch and dinner Bars in person.

The Milk Bar is more credited to the pastry chef of Momofuku Ssäm, Christina Tosi, who is responsible for not only the Cereal Milk [for which I applaud her for literally being the only woman on the planet with a bigger sweet tooth than me, particularly since her Cereal Milk may be the closest mortal equivalent to ambrosia], but also this absolutely marvelous Crack Pie.

I mean, it is hard to go wrong when you have a crust that's literally made out of homemade cookies, topped to the brim with a rich, sugary sweet filling. The end result is a gooey, buttery, molasses-y pie that's somewhere between euphoria and sheer nirvana.

The true way to go about baking this pie is to use crushed cornflakes in the cookie crust. It adds the deliciously buttery, slightly salty flavor that makes the cereal milk so utterly perfect. Nevertheless, if, like me, you don't have cereal on hand, rolled oats can be substituted.

And don't worry, it's still astonishingly addicting.

Momofuku Crack Pie
Adapted from LA Times [adapted from Momofuku]
Yields two 10-inch pies

For the crumbled cookies, you'll need:

  • 2/3 cup plus 1 tbsp flour
  • scant 1/8 tsp baking powder
  • scant 1/8 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup [1 stick] butter, softened
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 3 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • scant 1 cup cornflake crumbs [substitute with rolled oats, if necessary]

For the crust, you'll need:

  • crumbled cookies
  • 1/4 cup [1/2 stick] butter, cut into cubes
  • scant 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt

For the filling, you'll need:

  • 1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 cup milk powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup [2 sticks] butter, melted
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 8 egg yolks
  • confectioner's sugar, for dusting

To prepare the crumbled cookies:
Preheat oven to 350F and line and grease a cookie sheet.

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl, beat butter, granulated sugar, and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg and beat until incorporated. Reduce speed to low and gradually mix the flour mixture into the sugar. Finally, add the cornflake crumbs.

Spread the mixture onto the baking sheet and bake for 18-20 mins, until golden brown and set. Allow cookie to cool to room temperature, then crumble it into small pieces. Don't hesitate to get handsy.

To prepare the crust:
Generously grease and flour two 10-inch pie or tart pans and set aside.

Combine the crumbled cookie, butter, brown sugar, and salt in a food processor and pulse until mixture is crumbly. [A little of the mixture clumped between your fingers should hold together.]

Divide the mixture evenly among the two pans, and press the crust to form a thin, even layer on the bottom and sides of the pan. Set the prepared crusts aside while you make the filling.

To prepare the filling:
Preheat oven to 350F.

Whisk brown sugar, granulated sugar, milk powder, and salt until well-blended. Slowly pour in the melted butter and whisk until combined. Pour in the heavy cream and whisk until fully incorporated. Add the vanilla and mix, and finally whisk in the egg yolks. Be careful not to add too much air to the mixture.

Divide the filling among the two pie crusts and smooth with a spatula. Bake for 15 mins, then reduce temperature to 325F and bake for another 10 mins, until golden brown [but should still be slightly jiggly]. Cool pies to room temperature on a wire rack, then chill in the fridge until cold.

Pie should be served cold, and filling will be gooey. Dust with powdered sugar before serving.

I know what you're thinking and no, I don't think this recipe could be any longer. But it's certainly worth all the time and effort because it's just unbelievable.

Surprisingly, I do not have two 10-inch pie pans at my disposal, but unsurprisingly, I did have one 9-inch pie and and one 9-inch tart pan and so used those instead. If you're baking it in a smaller pan, be sure to bake it for an additional 3-5 mins (at 325F) to account for the thicker filling.

Why did I make these, you might ask? Well, for one, I've noticed that Momofuku has been appearing on Tastespotting and Foodgawker with a considerable amount of gusto as of late, and after my visit to the Milk Bar last year, I've been dying to recreate one of these. Unfortunately, I was the world's biggest failure and never actually ordered the Crack Pie while I was there [my full attention was centered solely on the Cereal Milk Milkshake], and so have more or less been salivating every time one pops up on my computer screen.

More importantly, though, I wanted to bake something new and marvelous to gift to my dear friend Tommy, who celebrated his 21st birthday last Friday. I figured my honorary sous baker deserved something rather wonderful, particularly after spending hours of his time helping out with DB challenges and my own birthday cake back in September.

So this crack-tastically addicting pie is dedicated to you, darling Tommy, in the hopes that it hasn't immediately thrown you into a diabetic coma.

As for me, I've benefited spectacularly from this two-pie recipe, seeing as how there's still one left over in my apartment. It's going to be a lovely few days.

Though, I'm not so sure what I'll do once I need another hit...

Sunday, April 15, 2012

key lime pie [and unproductivity]

I don't take well to being sick. Mostly because illnesses hit me hard. It's been one of those weekends: unprompted illness surfacing yesterday - a common cold blown out of proportion in the drama-queen-esque way aspects of my life are wont to do, most likely - leaving me with a head full of cotton, throat sore and swollen, and achy limbs screaming out in protest of any sort of physical exertion.

Incidentally, I had set an alarm to get up early enough to hit the Farmer's Market with Noosh. This resulted in me returning home with a cup full of vegan curry and rice and falling into a 4-hour nap that took up the entirety of what could have been a highly productive afternoon. Well, damn it all, I hate losing precious time to silly things like napping.

In any case, I woke up around 4pm and basically didn't want to get out of bed. So I didn't, for about an hour, and then realized that we were supposed to head to the nearest 3D-friendly theater for Titanic in the evening, so threw off the covers and put on some stretchy pants. And as much as part of my soul died contributing to overpriced ticket sales for a movie that came out when I was 6, it was actually quite spectacular.

Plus, I was actually feeling pretty alright the whole way through - the acquisition of movie theater popcorn [the paradigm of junk food nirvana] kept me more than happy - until the drive back home when my meds decided to wear off. A really bitchy play to pull when my body knew it would be trapped in an iron cage going 70mph down a highway for an hour. I metaphorically rolled my eyes [because doing so literally would likely have contributed to the throbbing albeit rhythmic flamenco going on in my skull], held out until home, and immediately crashed.

Today's been significantly better, though what I've gained back in cognitive lucidity I've lost in terms of any semblance of motivation for academics. Which is kind of a shame, since I've had a pretty fulfilling day in every other area of life. Tidying up some books around my room, a drive down to Whole Foods for a bag full of spring greens, planning out a week's worth of meals, and baking a pie.

Key Lime Pie
Yields one 9-inch pie

For the crust, you'll need:

  • 2 1/2 cups pulverized ginger snap cookies [put enough cookies through a food processor until you have the right amount]
  • 2 heaping tbsp granulated sugar
  • 6 tbsp butter, melted

For the filling, you'll need:
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 tsp lime zest
  • 1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/2 - 2/3 cup lime juice, fresh or bottled [to desired tartness]

For the whipped topping, you'll need:
  • 1 1/2 cups cold heavy whipping cream
  • 4 tbsp confectioner's sugar

Preheat oven to 350F and lightly butter a pie plate. Combine all crust ingredients with a fork until the mixture comes together. Press into the base and sides of the pie pan. Bake for 8 minutes and allow crust to cool while you make the filling.

To prepare the filling, beat egg yolks and lime zest on medium-high speed until light. Add condensed milk and beat for about 3 minutes. Slowly pour in the lime juice and beat until fully incorporated. Allow mixture to sit for 5 minutes, to thicken. Pour filling on top of the crust, smooth with a spatula, and bake for 15 minutes. Allow pie to cool to room temperature, then refrigerate. Chill pie for at least 3 hours before topping.

To prepare the whipped topping, whisk heavy cream and sugar on high speed until the mixture forms stiff peaks, 2-3 minutes. Dollop the cream on top of the chilled pie. Garnish with fresh-grated lime zest or sliced limes if desired.

Really, though, it's like my mind is doing everything possible not to have to write term papers [of which I have two], start preparing for a 10-minute long presentation [which I have in two days], or sit down and whine my way through financial math problems [which I'm just not even considering a pragmatic use of my time at the moment, mostly because I don't like it]. Perhaps it's some juvenile, melodramatic, psychological form of rebellion against my laziness from yesterday, since I now have the capabilities to actually get things done. I've always been a recalcitrant little snot, as it were.

So instead, I take my meds, sit on the couch with my feet propped up on the table, allow the sudden burst of 85 degree weather to make me unbelievably lazy, and skim through cookbooks. But, I mean, not doing work also resulted in the creation of this pie, so there's a win in there somewhere, right?

Speaking of, this pie is glorious. I went with gingersnap instead of the typical graham-cracker crust because (1) it seemed unique, and (2) mom gave me an enormous bag of leftover gingersnap crumbs from her pie-baking endeavors a little while back and I wanted to put them to good use. The motivation was mostly the latter, particularly since the use of gingersnap cookies as a crust for key lime pie isn't quite as unique as you'd think. In any case, I had never realized how damn easy making key lime pie is. [Not that I actually used key limes, because half the juice came from a bottle, but it sounds odd to refer to it simply as a 'lime pie.'] Four ingredients whisked together, poured in a crust, and topped with a fluffy, sweetened cream.

And since this was a very welcome warm day after a bizarre, 50F average week, I figured a little celebration was in order. Even if it means I'll be scrambling to get things done later in the week. But someone once told me that college is the one opportunity to make poor life choices...so I'll go with it.

In fact, I may even have pie for dinner.