Wednesday, August 31, 2011

[one year ends and a journey begins] seviyan

“Great restaurants are, of course, nothing but mouth-brothels. There is no point in going to them if one intends to keep one’s belt buckled.”
- Frederic Raphael

If you've ever read this thing before, you'll know that I have an obsession with food. A rather obvious obsession with food. That's why I started this thing, really: to publicize my gastronomic antics in an outlet much preferable to texting friends miles away about a phenomenal slice of cake eaten at such-and-such restaurant, or sending camera-phone photos to my mother every time I bake something new and enthralling.

Granted, I still do occasionally resort to the texting method aforementioned, to friends who'd appreciate those antics without raising an eyebrow too high in question, if I've eaten something particularly delicious. It's just a love that should be shared, I think.

Anyway, that was 1 year ago. Exactly 365 days. 365 days since I first signed onto blogger and made this silly old thing. But it's grown to be more than just a silly old thing.

Still silly, of course, but more meaningful to me than I originally thought it'd be. Perhaps in my subconscious mind, it's a vain attempt at self-preservation. Perhaps it's a method of escaping from the trivialties of the day-to-day to a place where I don't feel obligated to do anything, really, and can stop thinking about the stresses of university. Perhaps it's because it's become way to learn, not only about baking and photography, but about life and about myself.

Or perhaps I just really, really, really like food.

No matter the reason, I'm happy to be here. I thought I'd keep this up for a few weeks, a few months at most, but it's become bigger than that. It's become a source of comfort, something I know will always be here for me to come to when I want to stop thinking. Something to remember things by, from vibrant photographs of blackberry flaugnarde to the lingering taste of apple pie on the tongue. Something that makes me appreciate Farmer's Market tomatoes and coffee dates with friends, espresso and lemon pound cake on the table.

I'm just...happy to be here, honestly. Not much more to say than that.

Aside from thank you, to you wonderful people. You wonderful people who read this silly old thing. And put up with my antics. And hopefully walk away with something afterward. A way to pass time in a dull lecture, a growling stomach, a new recipe, or maybe even a new perspective on something as ordinarily beautiful as food.

But enough of the sap. Cheese is for eating, after all. [shutup Sabeen]

Not only is today the 1-year anniversary of this blog, but it also happens to be Eid. So, obviously, as if I weren't already going to bake something in celebration, I knew it had to be something special. And so I decided to take a drive home for a bit, spend some time with mom, reminisce about Eids past [back when I could actually be home to celebrate], and cook some seviyan.

I really just love this stuff. Could eat it by the pot. Easily. I won't even notice how much of it I've eaten until there's none left, and then all I feel regrettable about is the fact that there was hardly enough for me. I've been downing this stuff since I was born, basically, and it's one of my all-time favorite sweet treats. Still, it's something mom only makes on special occasions, so when I was home this weekend for an early Eid celebration, I knew I wanted her to finally teach me the trade.

Granted, a lot of the weekend was spent cursing Irene for a loss of electricity, but therein lies the beauty of gas stoves.

Interestingly, mom says that a Pakistani woman is only considered of marriageable material if she can cook a good pot of seviyan. Wondering if I should be proud of myself for successfully accomplishing this supposed feat, or terrified of being married off in the near future.

Adapted from mom's recipe book

You'll need:

  • half a gallon of whole milk
  • 1 cup crushed vermicelli noodles
  • 1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk
  • a pinch of ground cardamom
  • 1 drop of kevra, if available [alternatively, 1 drop of rosewater works as well]
  • chopped pistachios or almonds to garnish

In a large saucepan over medium flame, heat milk until just boiling. Lower the temperature to a gentle simmer. Stir in the crushed vermicelli noodles and stir. Keep stirring at a simmer for 40-50 minutes, until milk has thickened some. No need to stir continuously, but return frequently [every 5-10 minutes] as to make sure milk isn't boiling or burning. Be vigilant about scraping the sides and bottom of the pan.

After milk has thickened a bit, add in sweetened condensed milk and combine. Finally, add in kevra [or rosewater] and ground cardamom. Stir for another 5-10 minutes, to allow the sugar in the condensed milk to thicken the pudding further. Remove the pan from the heat and let rest for 5 minutes. Spoon pudding into serving dishes and top with ground nuts of choice. Be sure to do so before the skin forms on top of the pudding [which, by the way, is the best part]. Let pudding cool to room temperature, at least, before serving. Pudding tastes best after a few hours in the fridge, and will stay good, covered, for up to 5 days.

And now, this recipe leads me to my big blog project for the year [Two years? Three years? Deadlines have yet to been set, saying how it's unlikely they're to be met. But I digress].

So, I like to bake. Obviously. But more than that, I like trying new things. It's why I joined the Daring Bakers back in January; it gave me an excuse to bake things that I normally wouldn't have a reason to.

And now that this is the end of one year, and the beginning of another, I thought, "what better way to keep myself entertained during my third/fourth/post-grad year of college than to impose some sort of unreachable culinary goal that will inevitably leave me wondering why I've decided to undertake the challenge in the first place?"

Thus, I dub today the commencement of my blog project, Around the World in 50 Sweets. What am I going to do, you might ask? And did I really need to select such a corny title? Well, I am going to take a culinary tour around the world, starting in South Asia and the Middle East, traveling east through Asia and the Pacific Islands, Down Under, across the sea to South America, up north through Central America and the Caribbean to the good old' US of A, a short trip up to Canada, a boat ride across the Atlantic to Africa, a scenic backpacking trip through Europe, and finally through the Chunnel to the glorious United Kingdom. Fifty desserts to give myself and you all a taste of our world, one both enormously large and strikingly small, full of fantastic people with fantastic recipes to match. All with nothing but a whisk, mixing bowl, and a bag of sugar by side.

[Okay, so I'll have some flour and almond extract from time to time, but the above sounded more poetic. And yes, the title is staying.]

Is this crazy? Probably. Is this going to but an enormous dent in my bank account? Most certainly. Am I actually going to finish this by the end of my third year, as was my original vision? Hugely unlikely. Am I going to end up regretting this?

...well, that goes without saying. Mostly for my thighs. But at least the journey will be fun.

And so, I bring to you today journey number one, the place where my story begins, all told through a bowl of seviyan: Pakistan. Jasmine trees, Great Illustrated Classics, henna tattoos, calls to prayer, grandmothers and grandfathers, noisy rikshas, dusty streets, afternoon ceiling fans and hot summer nights. A homage to my parents. Childhood familiarity. My beginning.

A good place to start, I think.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

{DBC} truffles & bark

Chocolate remind me of Halloween. Images of brightly-colored Reeses's cups, funsized Three Musketeers, sacred Hershey's bars wrapped in familiar cocoa packaging, solid letters branding the front like book covers. Cold nights, vibrant costumes, kids laughing, screaming, "trick-or-treats" happily filling cul-de-sacs and windy neighborhood roads. Most of all, I remember Pikachu ears flapping against the top of my skull, one small hand clutching onto the familiar crooked tail, the other the handle of a flimsy, highlighter-orange plastic bag molded shamelessly into the face of a Jack-o-Lantern, all but bursting with excitement from the thought of sitting on the living room floor and sifting through the night's haul for the best finds [anything unwanted would go to Yusra, of course]. This was when I was about 7.

Chocolate reminds me of plane rides. When Yusra and I were much younger and utilized our immaturity to be as unimaginably figety and difficult as possible on long rides, mom would pacify us with treats of Toblerone. I was always fascinated by the shape of the thing, plucking of triangle after triangle, one by one, and savoring the taste as the chocolate melted in my mouth. Though it served as a distraction for only about half an hour before the sweet inevitably disappeared in our stomachs, the distraction gave my mom a good thirty minutes of peace. A small piece of heaven in a 14-hour flight, but heaven nevertheless. It wasn't until just a few years ago, admittedly, that I realized it was possible to purchase the stuff outside of the realm of Duty-Free shops and airport stalls, but the craving doesn't strike unless I know I'll be strapped into a too-small, too-cramped plane seat later. The first time I had it, I was probably 9, but I can't lie and say that I didn't pop into the Duty-Free while in Madrid earlier this summer for a quick fix before heading home.

Chocolate reminds me of family trips. My father loves driving for hours down long roads, through the mountains, across states. Whenever we used to visit Canada or NYC or Florida, we would drive. Taking a plane didn't seem to make sense for such a short ride; planes were for oceans, not roads. I never minded, though; losing oneself after the first few hours with nothing but one's own thoughts and the constant view of trees, mountains, small towns, and cloudy skies passing by. Cathartic, almost like an out-of-body experience. Dad wasn't one to stop to grab snacks, since he doesn't eat much anyway, but mom always made sure to pack a few Twix bars in her bag for him to munch on when sleepiness struck. Always Twix. Eventually, it became routine, just as constant as the trees, mountains, small towns, and cloudy skies. Though there's little time for family trips now, I'll sometimes reach into my bag when driving back to my apartment, expecting to find a Twix bar waiting.

Chocolate reminds me of a summer in Italy. Hiking through stone roads, surrounded by old Baroque architecture to the hilltops of Ragusa cities, seeking refuge from the glaring heat in cafes. Cups upon cups of gelato, in every flavor imaginable, from tiramisu to cioccolate negro to stracciatella. Most of all, I long for the taste of Modica chocolate, which must be the most exquisite chocolate I've ever eaten, grainy with its lack of cocoa butter, intense flavor bursting straight from the cacao beans, infused with lavendar, vanilla, chilli pepper. The taste stll lingers somewhere deep in my mind, but far enough away that I know I'll have to return to Modica to get it back.

Needless to say, I love chocolate. And so when this month's Daring Baker's Challenge turned out to be chocolate candy, I was more than thrilled. Tommy and I plotted for a while about how we would approach the challenge [we had to select two types of candies to make, one in the realm of bonbons and truffles and the  other, either chocolate or non-chocolate, of our choice].

White Chocolate Coconut-Pecan Truffles

You'll need:
  • 1 3/4 cups [9 oz] white chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup ground pecans
  • 2/3 cup toasted shredded coconut

Finely chop or grate the chocolate and place it in a heatproof bowl.  In a medium-sized saucepan over medium flame, heat cream until just about to boil. Quickly remove the cream and pour it over the chocolate. Stir the chocolate until it's smooth and melted. Add in the ground pecans and toasted coconut [if desired, reserve some of each for rolling later] and stir until uniform. Cover the top of the bowl loosely with clingwrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, until firm.

To roll the chocolate, scoop tablespoon-sized balls of chocolate with a spoon or melon scooper. Roll the chocolate in your palms to smooth the edges. Dip the chocolate in the reserved coconut flakes or pecans, if desired. Set chocolate balls on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and return to the fridge to chill completely. Once set, chocolate can be stored at room temperature in an airtight container.

Bittersweet Chocolate Bark

You'll need:
  • 2 cups [12 oz] bittersweet chocolate
  • toppings of choice; suggested:
    • dried cherries, prunes, or raisins
    • pretzels
    • toffee bits
    • butterscotch or peanut butter chips
    • toasted pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, cashews, chopped
    • crushed coffee beans

Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. In a medium-sized saucepan over medium flame, heat chocolate until smooth and melted. Remove chocolate from the heat and pour onto the parchment paper. Smooth evenly with a knife. Sprinkle desired toppings evenly over the melted chocolate. Refrigerate chocolate until set, 2-3 hours. Either break or cut into pieces. Store at room temperature in an airtight container.

Bark jumped out at me immediately, because of the beautiful simplicity and almost guaranteed deliciousness of the stuff, but the other was trickier. In the end, though, truffles won out. They always make me think of Stockholm fashions, Parisian autumns, and Swiss train rides. Like enjoying chocolate in childlike innocence and bliss, behind a mask of elegance and an air of being grown-up. Almost sinful in its deception, but delicious enough not to matter in the least.

In other words, upon contemplation, it was a no-brainer as our second choice.

Like bark, I love truffles for their diversity. There is an endless combination of flavors that one can utilize with truffles, but for some reason, the combination of white chocolate [which I'm normally rather opposed to because I think it tastes like plastic coated in artifical sugar], toasted coconut, and pecans jumped out at me. I suggested it to Tommy, who was absolutely for the idea, and so he walked over after I got home from work [he now lives in the apartment complex right behind mine, which means that weight gain from baking dates seems inevitable] and we got to cooking.

We were quite pleased to find that these desserts are effortlessly simple and extremely quick to prepare; probably no more than 20 minutes were spent prepping the candy, and the bulk of our time was spent watching the second episode of Sherlock [we figure that it'll be during the September challenge that Tommy finishes up the series] while waiting for the candy to set. And then, of course, taste-testing the end results, which were mouthwateringly good.

But I expected little else. It is chocolate, after all. And after a lifetime of delicious memories, it wasn't about to fail me.

Friday, August 26, 2011

[short and sweet] sea salted chocolate-caramel shortbread bars

You know, an unexpected earthquake and hurricane really liven things up during an otherwise dull first week of term.

Though, admittedly, I didn't realize the earthquake was actually an earthquake until making it to Starbucks and finding myself amongst noisy chatter concerning the coming of the apocalypse. I just thought it was, you know, construction. Not to mention the irony of Hurricane Irene hitting this weekend [by irony I mean the name; as if I didn't already have Sherlock on the brain 20 hours a day, it somehow finds a way to permeate every aspect of my existence]. Life is full of unexpected surprises, I suppose.

Anyway, first week is over, and I'm heading home for the weekend. On my way back, I'll be making a pit-stop in the city to visit Brinay and bring her a [not-so-surprise] treat for her birthday this weekend. Sea salted chocolate-caramel shortbread bars. I asked Brinay a few days ago what she would want if I, hypothetically of course, happened to bake her something for the occasion. All she said to me was "chocolate," but that was more than enough.

I happened across a recipe for chocolate dulce de leche bars on the interweb, but altered the recipe to my own tastes. Mainly with the addition of sea salt on top. Chocolate is wonderful for its versatility, and I wanted to try something new. Chili powder was an option as well, though I think that's best suited for a dessert a little...grander. A mousse or cake, perhaps. But birthday bars? Nah. For these, I kept 'em short, sweet, and just a little bit salty.

Sea Salted Chocolate-Caramel Shortbread Bars
Adapted from Nutmeg Nanny

For the shortbread crust, you'll need:
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • pinch of salt
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup almond meal
  • 1/4 cup ground pecans

For the chocolate-caramel topping, you'll need:
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 14-oz can dulce de leche
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 4 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • approximately 1/2 tsp sea salt, to sprinkle

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and line and grease an 8x8-inch square pan. To prepare the crust, beat butter, sugar, and vanilla until smooth and fluffy. Add in flour, almond meal, pecans, and salt, and mix until the dough comes together. Press dough evenly onto the base of the pan. Bake for 13-15 minutes, until crust is golden-brown. Let cool at least 30 minutes.

To prepare the chocolate topping, simmer heavy cream and dulce de leche in a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat. Whisk mixture until dulce de leche is completely melted. In a separate bowl, whisk egg yolks. Slowly pour about 1/4 cup of the hot caramel mixture into the egg yolks, while still whisking, to temper them. Pour the hot egg yolk mixture back into the saucepan, and mix until the chocolate begins to thicken. Continue whisking at a simmer for 4-5 minutes, until mixture is thick enough to resemble pudding. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the chocolate.

Let the chocolate mixture cool 10-15 minutes before pouring on top of the cooled crust. Chill the bars, uncovered, for an hour. Sprinkle the sea salt evenly over top of the chocolate, and then return the bars to the fridge and chill for another two hours before slicing. Store bars in the fridge for up to 3 days.

These are quite delicious. The topping is soft, almost the consistency of a dense mousse, and each bite melts in your mouth in the most pleasant way. You want to use a very small amount of sea salt on top, since sea salt itself has such an intense depth of flavor. Just a hint is enough to make you think there's something more than just chocolate, but hardly enough to make you realize it until you lick your lips and taste traces of saltiness left behind.

A new dimension to ordinary chocolate bars. One I'm hoping Brinay will enjoy when I see her in a few hours.

As for the semester, I'm anticipating a busy one. I've already been confronted with more reading than I expected having to do on a week-to-week basis, none of which I'm too excited about. Still, not having class on Fridays helps.

And I mean, if one of your required readings is a biography of Leonardo da Vinci, it can't be all bad. I anticipate many days of tea, scones, and art history in my future.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

peanut butter banana cream pie

Skies have been rather overcast lately. The threat of rain looms constantly. Occasionally following through on its promise with bursts of lightning and roars of thunder. Everything's gray. The air smells different. Mom hates this sort of weather; she finds it depressing.

I love it, though. Three months ago, I'd hate it. Three months ago, overcast skies and rain storms meant humidity, air too thick and heavy to breathe comfortably, hair puffing up unceremoniously, and general sulkiness. Now, they mean cool nights, gentle breezes, excuses to curl up on the couch under a knit blanket with television and a good cookbook. They tell me about the autumn to come, my favorite time of year.

Particularly this autumn. Not so sure why. I don't anticipate for it to be the best autumn of my life, or anything, but then again, I don't really think of time that way. What's the point in compartmentalizing the better times from otherwise good ones? Seems silly. Too much effort. Plus, comparing now with the past isn't really...plausible. I'm a different person now than I was this time last year. Not in a positive or negative way, or anything, just...different. Older, maybe wiser, maybe more naive, what have you. So, no, it's not going to be the best autumn of my life. But it is going to be lovely.

It will be busy, of course, what with the semester starting up this week. Lots of seminars, finishing up major requirements, working part-time, volunteering, internship-hunting, etc. etc. But there will be hiking, and apple-picking, and pumpkin pie-baking, and reading, and meeting friends for coffees, and quality television, and an unending list of books, and new video games, and photography, and concerts, and traveling.

Or maybe even none of that. But even still, I love to watch the leaves change. And that's enough to make me excited.

But, you know, peanut butter banana cream pie helps. Especially when your best friend is back at the flat to enjoy it with you.

[I have, by the way, watched so much BBC that at this point, "flat" is making its way into my everyday vocabulary. It takes so much less effort to say than "apartment." Wonder why it hasn't caught on here.]

Peanut Butter Banana Cream Pie
Adapted from Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito 

For the crust, you'll need:
  • 2 cups crushed graham crackers [approximately 16 full crackers]
  • 1/2 cup walnuts
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 6 tbsp butter, cold and cut into small cubes

For the vanilla custard, you'll need:
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 tbsp cornstarch
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 tbsp vanilla
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 4 ripe, but firm, bananas
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice

For the peanut butter topping, you'll need:
  • 4 oz cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
  • 2/3 cup chilled heavy whipping cream

To prepare the crust:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and grease a 9-inch pie dish. In a food processor, combine graham crackers, walnuts, flour, sugar, and salt, and crush until coarse. Toss in cold butter and pulse until the mixture comes together. Press the graham cracker mixture on the bottom and sides of the pie pan. Bake for 13-15 minutes, until lightly golden. Let pie crust cool completely.

To prepare the vanilla custard:
Whisk sugar, salt, and cornstarch in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Once the mixture is smooth and uniform, continue whisking and slowly pour in heavy cream, milk, and vanilla. Whisk until blended, and then add in egg yolks, one a at a time, and whisk. Whisk until mixture comes to a boil, and continue whisking for 5-6 minutes until mixture thickens. Finally, add in butter and whisk until the custard is uniform. Pour the custard into the cooled pie crust, and chill until set, at least one hour.

Slice the bananas into uniform pieces and toss with lemon juice. Layer the sliced bananas evenly on top of the cold vanilla custard. Return to the fridge while you prepare the peanut butter topping.

To prepare the peanut butter topping:
Beat the cream cheese and powdered sugar on medium speed until smooth and fluffy. Add in vanilla and peanut butter. In a separate bowl, beat chilled heavy cream on high speed until stiff peaks form. Fold heavy cream into the peanut butter mixture until incorporated. Dollop the peanut butter mixture over the sliced bananas. Return the pie to the fridge and chill for at least 3 hours before serving.

    Noosh moved back in a few days ago, but we hadn't really gotten a chance to hang out until this weekend, what with her unpacking and me working. This also happens to be our last free weekend before term starts, so we figured, what better way to bond than bake something delicious and see what shenanigans the TARDIS is getting into?

    [Oh yes, I've gotten her into Doctor Who. I feel like I'm single-handedly propagandizing BBC television in the United States.]

    ...okay so the real reason for the baking is that Noosh brought a ton of bananas here with her, and I already had quite a few, and we can't actually eat them all before they go off. So, naturally, baking with them was the best option. Plus, ever since watching the episode of Throwdown where Bobby Flay battles Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito, I've been dying to make this pie.

    Erm. It's freaking delicious. Best banana cream pie I've ever eaten. Gorgeous, subtle hint of peanut butter, strong banana flavor, amazing crust [my own creation, thank you very much!], silky smooth custard, fluffy, creamy, crunchy, freaking delicious. I wish I could patent this recipe, but all credit go to Mr. Lewis and Poliafito.

    Brilliant men, those two.

    As for me, I'm going to spend my last day of summer finishing up Doctor Who, sleeping, and watching rain storms.

    Monday, August 15, 2011

    lemon meringue pie and playing favorites

    I like to consider myself a pretty open-minded individual: I like to try new things; I want nothing more than to travel all over the world and experience different cultures, languages, and people; I enjoy all sorts of movies, music, and literature; and if I could have it my way, I'd spend the rest of my life in university, majoring in any and every subject possible.

    But that's not to say that I don't play favorites. On the contrary, I do. Quite a lot. If "new things" involves anything with tentacles or shells, I will more than likely shy away from it [mainly because I have this irrational fear that if I eat something with tentacles, it will miraculously come to life in my stomach and take revenge on me by squeezing my lungs to dust]. I prefer indie folk over most other genres of music. I like contemporary satirical fiction, particularly if the author is Kurt Vonnegut. My travel location of choice is heavily influenced by what I'm interested in at the time [needless to say, the current dream destination is London]. And by "majoring in any and every subject possible," I'm excluding most of the sciences and math.

    Well, I would consider human biology. But that's an exception.

    Anyway, my point is, I like tons of things, but I love a few things. As I'm getting older, it's becoming more and more apparent to me what I love and what I like. Which makes sense, I suppose. Didn't someone famous say that college is when you learn who you are? Or something similarly cliche? [My money's on Bono.]

    Okay, so, maybe I don't totally buy that [ridiculously cheesy and over-generalized] sentiment, but it does apply in some cases. And as of late, it's been dessert.

    Now, I've baked an enormous variety of dessert. I've consumed even more. I love it all, of course, otherwise I wouldn't constantly be contributing to the obesity epidemic that is my future. But recently, I've begun to realize that nothing really beats pie.

    At all.

    It's the crust, I think. Flaky, crunchy, not-too-sweet but absolutely necessary alongside a sugary filling. And, if you're lucky, you get an incredible filling to boot. But even then, a mediocre filling still makes for a good pie. A great pie. I'm not even sure there's such a thing as a bad pie. Those two words - two, small, three-letter words - just don't seem to fit together. A crime against the English language.

    I realize that I may be admitting to playing favorites with dessert. Which just seems so...sacrilegious. But I can't help it. Ever since that cherry Bakewell tart, I've had pie on the brain. And so when I came home this weekend, I knew I'd be baking some. be honest, this recipe is kind of half-arsed. Mainly, I'd had quite a bit of lemon curd sitting happily in my freezer, waiting to be used up. And I figured, after two months of neglect, now was the time to do it. So I brought it home with me [a fresh batch has taken its place as of Friday] and settled on lemon meringue pie. Pâte brisée, lemon curd, meringue topping. Easy peasy, and rather delicious. If you feel so inclined as to bake some for yourself, I'll give you the recipes for the pâte brisée and meringue here. The lemon curd I used is my go-to lemon curd recipe, which you'll find via clicking the link.

    Lemon Meringue Pie

    For the pâte brisée, you'll need:
    • 2 1/2 cups flour
    • pinch of salt
    • 10 tbsp cold butter, cut into small pieces
    • 1 egg 
    • 2 egg yolks
    • 1/2 cup cold water

    For the meringue topping, you'll need:
    • 4 egg whites
    • 6 tbsp sugar
    • 1/2 tsp cream of tartar

    To prepare the pie crust, combine flour, salt, and butter in a food processor. Pulse on low speed until the dough has the consistency of bread crumbs. Still on low speed, add egg and egg yolks, one at a time, and pulse until incorporated. Slowly pour in water until the dough comes together. You may not need to use all of the water. Roll the dough out into a disc, wrap with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least an hour.

    Once dough is chilled, preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit, butter a 9-inch pie pan, and roll dough out onto a floured surface. Roll until the dough is about 1/8-inch thick and 11-12 inches across. Place the dough into the prepared pan. Trim off any excess dough and press it against the sides of the pan, as to thicken the sides of the pie crust. Using a fork, poke holes on the bottom and sides of the dough. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the crust is golden-brown. Let cool completely.

    Once the crust has cooled, spoon the lemon curd into the pie and level it with a spatula. Refrigerate the pie for at least 3-4 hours, until the lemon curd has set completely. If you're not serving the lemon meringue pie the same day, cover the top of the pie with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to one day. Do not top with the meringue until you're about to serve the pie.

    To prepare the meringue, whisk the egg whites on high speed in the bowl of an electric mixer until frothy. While the mixer is still going, gradually add in the sugar. Once sugar is incorporated, add in the cream of tartar. Continue to mix on high speed until the meringue holds stiff peaks. Gently spoon the meringue onto the chilled lemon curd. Torch the top of the meringue, and then place pie back into the fridge and chill for about 30 minutes before serving.

    I prefer pâte brisée as the crust for this particular pie because it holds up well against the filling. Pâte sucrée would work just as adequately, I'd imagine, but since the filling is so bold, I like a more neutral crust. Also, a glass of milk works brilliantly alongside a slice of this.

    My next goal is to perfect the deep dish apple pie. I can never get mine just right. The crust always gets soggy, the flavor isn't as vibrant as I'd like, and it lacks the general homeliness I associate with good apple pie. Still, since apples are moving into season, I foresee quite a few trips to the orchard in my future.

    I also foresee quite a few epic failures, but what's life without a little adventure, eh?

    In other news, this was my first weekend spent in the now-furnished new home. It was kind of a surreal experience not to be driving back to the house I'd lived in for the past 11 years, and yet at the same time totally natural. It's much larger than our old house, and still smells like wood polish and new paint, but seeing familiar furniture scattered about, and my mother's decorating touch subtly permeating every room, it's been easy to adjust.

    And though I've only lived in it for a day and a half, I can say, with relative certainty, that the kitchen is shaping up to be my favorite room in the house.

    I'm pretty good at playing favorites, after all.

    Saturday, August 6, 2011

    blackberry flaugnarde

    Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
    Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
    Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots
    Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.

    -Seamus Heaney

    I rarely dream. It's none too surprising, given that most of the time I can't seem to sleep long enough to dream.

    [Insomnia is a cruel mistress, though one that has led to me bookmarking quite a number of recipes I hope to try in future, since clearly I have little else to do at 2am than skim through cookbooks when my mind refuses shut off.]

    But sometimes when I do dream, they're recollections. Of course, I'll have the odd one where I'm a wolf sprinting through the Mines of Moria and end up at the Sultan's palace kickin' it with Aladdin [true story], but occasionally I'll wake up with flashes of memories playing before my eyes, with my mind trying desperately to reach out for them before they dissolve.

    Walking along the beaches in Sicily. Sitting under the jasmine tree in my grandmother's front yard with a book in hand. Weaving in between the Douro Valley with the vineyards and river waltzing past. Having a conversation with an old friend, perched on armchairs in half-lit rooms with mugs of coffee and knit blankets, residual ache of nostalgia when I wake up.

    During the academic year, I don't dream at all. I also sleep far less then than I manage now, so it's unsurprising. But here at the apartment, with nothing but the quiet sounds of cars driving in and out of the complex and peaceful hum of the ceiling fan at night, I've found myself dreaming more than usual. I don't mind it, but it only leads to endless musings.

    [Though, since I'm back to working full-time, I welcome the musings. They break up the monotony of quality assurance checking and keep my mind away from pining for food.]

    As of late, the musings have been of summertime. Aside from the heat, I adore summer. Italian countrysides, Portuguese rivers, Spanish beaches, Pakistani rooftops under summer stars. Farmer's Markets, peach-picking, sunbathing, napping. Long days, lazy mornings, afternoon rainstorms, warm nights.

    It's rejuvenating in the best way imaginable.

    With the start of August came the start of Ramadan, one of my favorite times of the year. Not that I particularly enjoy the fasting aspect of it [it's mainly the thirst that's uncomfortable], but then again, the point really isn't to enjoy it. Rather, it's incredibly spiritually energizing. I love it. I feel peaceful. Content. Like there's no reason to worry about trivialities.

    But even aside from Ramadan, I love this time of year because summer's coming to an end. I'm sad to see the season go, of course, and definitely not in the right mindset at all to start reading David Hume and Spanish literature, but from a gastronomic perspective, it's beautiful.

    Peaches in all their rosy hue lining the stalls at the Saturday market, bright summer squashes springing up like daisies, scarlet tomatoes glistening in the sunshine, berries waiting to be blended with yogurt and honey for smoothies, crisp apples beginning to make their appearances in orchards, the scents of oregano, parsley, and tarragon wafting through market aisles and carrying with them countless menus for summer dinners.

    Quite suitably, I purchased some blackberries this weekend. Though, since they were purchased along with strawberries, blueberries, apples, and plums, and since I am, in fact, the only one making use of the fridge, I may have overestimated my ability to eat all of this fruit prior to their going-off. But I hate seeing seasonal produce go to waste cannot, in any right state of mind, allow seasonal produce to go to waste, and so I decided to bake. [Duh.]

    Blackberry Flaugnarde 
    A bakedbeen original

    You'll need:
    • 1 cup fresh blackberries
    • 3 eggs
    • 2 tsp vanilla
    • pinch of salt
    • 2 tbsp agave
    • 1/3 cup almond flour 
    • 1/2 cup milk
    • 1/2 cup heavy cream

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and butter and flour a 9-inch glass baking dish.

    In a medium-sized bowl, whisk the eggs. Add in vanilla, salt, and agave and whisk until blended. Add in the flour and incorporate. Finally, add in the milk and heavy cream and mix thoroughly.

    Pour about 1/2 cup of the egg mixture into the prepared dish. Place the blackberries evenly across the base of the dish. Pour the remaining filling slowly on top of the berries. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until the custard is set. Let cool 10-15 minutes. Sprinkle confectioner's sugar over top the flaugnarde. Serve warm, with a dollop of sweetened cream or vanilla ice cream if desired.

    Blackberry flaugnarde. A pretty, delicate, French dessert, on the cusp of being a flan. Flaugnardes are basically clafoutis, though clafoutis are exclusively made with cherries [hence the alternate name]. Semantics aside, flaugnardes are baked custards, eaten warm and absolutely brilliant on solitary summer evenings when berries are in season and there's little else to do besides watch episodes of No Reservations and Doctor Who. The dessert is divine, beautiful in its presentation and charming in its simplicity. I think a peach and cinnamon flaugnarde would be lovely, as well; perhaps something to try later this season.

    I had to remind myself, constantly, not to nibble at it while it was in the process of being made, since there was still daylight out and I was still fasting. Definitely the biggest challenge of this Ramadan so far.

    And I'm sure once this over, I'll be dreaming about it. Perhaps the nostalgia will have me baking it again quite soon.

    As for the rest of the weekend, I'm thinking about paying a visit to the orchard nearby, pick up some more peaches and see if any apples have decided to pop in yet. And after that... perhaps a very long nap.

    Yes. Definitely a very long nap.

    In other news, earlier this week I discovered that the second season of Sherlock has been pushed back, from this autumn, to May 2012. This can only mean two things:
    1. I am most certainly going to fail my spring finals, and
    2. I may actually expire from broken heart before then.

    Really, though, there are only so many reruns of a three-episode series I can watch before my heart pines for more. [Needless to say, this already happened after about the fourth rewatch, a few weeks ago.]

    Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat, what are you doing to me?!