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.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

baked brie with mint-strawberry jam

It has finally reached that point in the semester when my motivation has been almost totally zapped. Not that I've stopped, you know, actually doing work, since that's out of the question.

But that physical pain that you get right in your gut when you hear your alarm go off in the morning, the unbelievable amount of willpower necessary to swing your legs over the side of the bed, the sheer dread that shakes your core at the thought of removing the covers and having to face the day...

Oh man, it has hit full force.

I think it was that last math exam that finally did me in. [I have learned, though, that the only thing you get out of taking financial mathematics is the unshakable fear that you'll spend your entire life paying off loans, moving from cardboard box to cardboard box, and burning your collection of scarves for warmth.] That, and the fact that the Farmer's Market is officially up and running for the year.

I run on a food calendar, unsurprisingly, and now that asparagus and rhubarb are ripe for the picking, I can finally enjoy the season.

[Okay, admittedly, I've never actually seen rhubarb in my life, but it's a mystery I'm planning on unraveling this year!]

So, it's equally as unsurprising that I want nothing more than to sleep in until close to noon every day, with the sun shining brightly through the shades, spending the afternoon sifting through cookbooks to bookmark recipes I'm unlikely to get around to actually cooking.

[Like rhubarb and raspberry crostata, but only time will tell. I need to figure out what rhubarb is, first and foremost.]

In any case, after an excruciatingly long week of future financial terror, I decided to come home for the weekend. Stocking up on groceries with mom's credit card always does wonders for my psyche, after all. That, and the fact that during one of our numerous email exchanges over the week, she informed me that there was a wheel of brie sitting in the fridge, waiting to be put to use.


Brie, you say?




Clearly, the fates were calling on me to make the trek home. It's not every day that there's brie in my life, after all, and I fully intended on taking the utmost advantage of the situation.

Baked Brie
Adapted from any baked brie recipe

You'll need:
  • 1 sheet of puff pastry, thawed
  • 1 round of brie [do not remove the rind]
  • generous amount of mint-strawberry jam [recipe follows]
    • other fruit jams or preserves can be substituted; apricot is particularly divine
  • one egg, beaten
  • handful of sugar

Preheat oven to 350F and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Lay out the puff pastry dough and place the round of brie in the center. Spread a good amount of cherry preserves on top of the brie, and fold the dough over top. Brush the beaten egg over the top and sides of the pastry and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, until pastry is golden-brown. Let cool 10 minutes before slicing. Serve with berries, green apple slices, crackers, jam, and/or honey.

Mint-Strawberry Jam
Adapted from Showfood Chef.
Yields about 1 pint of jam.

You'll need:
  • 1 1/2 lbs strawberries, washed, hulled, and chopped
  • juice and zest of one lemon
  • scant 2 cups sugar
  • small handful mint leaves, hand-shredded
  • 6 black peppercorns, freshly ground

In a large bowl, thoroughly stir together strawberries, lemon juice, zest, and sugar. Cover the top of the bowl with a large plate or loosely with aluminum foil, and let sit for at least 1 hour.

Heat a medium saucepan over medium flame. Pour strawberries into pan and simmer until sugar has dissolved, about 5 minutes. Run mixture through a sieve to remove strawberries, and reserve syrup to the pan. Over the flame, the pale pink syrup will foam up. Stir syrup gently until a candy thermometer reads 221F. [Lacking a candy thermometer, cook until the color deepens to a strawberry-red color.] Toss strawberries back into the jam and cook for another 5 mins, until fruit has softened. For a more pureed jam, run an immersion blender through the jam. Otherwise, lower heat to very low and let the jam cook until thickened a bit, about 3-4 mins.

Divide jam into sterilized mason jars. Jam will keep well in the fridge for up to a week and a half.

Oh, brie. How can I begin to describe brie? Brie is one of those cheeses... that you literally have to be dead not to enjoy. I mean, it melts in your mouth, it's divine with fruit or crackers, and you can bake it in a friggin' puff pastry.

I mean, it's just cheese and carbs. Silky-smooth, gooey cheese wrapped inside a flaky pastry. And it's the easiest thing in the world to make. You just cannot go wrong. 

Plus, I like puff pastry. Quite a lot, actually. It takes the difficulty out of ensuring that pastry comes out flaky. And anything that makes baking seem fancy without the need for actual skill is a big win in my book.

I'm sure you could do a savory version with a topping of sun dried tomatoes or wild mushrooms and pesto, but this makes a really beautiful appetizer or brunch dish. I mean, the colors are just unbelievable. Not to mention that it's friggin' brie with strawberries. I'd never baked with brie before, actually, so this was excitingly experimental.

As for the jam? I've always liked strawberry and mint together, and finding a recipe that incorporated the two was perfect. Plus the addition of black peppercorn, believe it or not, was sheer brilliance. Underscored some of the sweetness from the sugar in a really lovely way. I shy away from using packaged pectin, frankly because it weirds me out a bit, but lemons have a rather high pectin-content on their own so the jam still thickens up nicely. I didn't actually can these jars, as I've never done so before and wasn't in the mood to burn down the house this morning, but if you're more talented than I, this jam keeps very well.

In any case, the combination of the jam, brie, and pastry is absolutely divine.

Plus, with the sun shining warmly through now-green trees, mom, Yusra, and I were able to enjoy breakfast with the patio open the first time since moving into the new house. A late-morning breakfast of baked brie, berries, and tea spread out happily on table, wrapped up in sweatshirts against the cool breeze wafting through the screen door, anticipating a day spent reading books and not studying annuity formulas and amortization schedules... the perfect way to rejuvenate after a long week.

And, I suppose, with mornings like this, I could make it through the rest of the semester.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

sticky toffee banana-date pudding with salted caramel sauce [and a bit of self-preservation]

First off, I suppose I should acknowledge the fact that I haven't actually blogged anything in over a month. This seems to be a startling turn of events for people who know me well and have commented on the lack of updates, which, I suppose after about a year and a half of near-constant posting, is somewhat alarming.

In my defense, it's been a busy time!

Okay, so maybe the acceptance of gluten-sensitivity has a bit to do with it. I mean, when you're more or less avoiding the consumption of flours that lead to the predictable-yet-ever-unexpected onslaught of stomach pain akin to someone stabbing you repeatedly in the abdomen with a blunt knife, there's little reason to bake. Couple that with the fact that there isn't anyone to bake for, these days, as birthday season has taken a bit of a hiatus and I've spent most of my free time on grounds or in coffee shops, enjoying the surprising bouts of gorgeous weather or reading some of the most confusing philosophy I've ever been exposed to, and I really haven't found an opportunity to whip up something sweet.

It's tragic, mostly.

But excuses aside, I apologize for the enormous lack of visual sugar-coma these past few weeks. I have, though, been cooking quite a bit. Due to aforementioned acceptance of this gluten problem, I've needed to get my rear in gear and actually start making sure there are things for me to eat for dinner. I also recently wrote an essay on book collecting for a very minor contest on grounds, which resulted in a $25 gift card to a local bookseller but more importantly, recognition of the fact that I own approximately 75 cookbooks.


Literally, 75.

Seventy-five cookbooks.

Look at these 5. And add 70 to them.

I don't think most people own 75 books, period, let alone books about food. This also does not include the pile of cut-outs from copies of Bon Appetit magazine that I happily get to sift through once a month, or the handwritten notebook of recipes from family and friends that I've begun to scrawl in the wee hours of the morning.

[If you didn't think I had a problem before, I'm positive you do now.]

So, I've actually been trying to put those books to use. Most of the recipes I have aren't economically feasible for me at the moment, to be sure [rack of lamb, truffle butter, and grass-fed flank steaks are a bit out of my meager, college-student price-range], or are seasonally irrelevant. But I've begun spending [a bit] less time online shopping for even more cookbooks to fuel my obsession add to my collection, and more time perusing Kroger and Whole Foods, loading up a cart with baby spinach, parsnips, and kefir, for parsnip and yellow-foot mushroom soup with toasted hazelnuts [recipe adapted from Nigel Slater's Tender], or chicken breasts tossed in spinach and pecan pesto [mostly trying to use up all the greens before they go off].

It's been a fun time, really, and I've gotten to try foods I've never had before [parsnips, for one]. So, to continue this period of culinary experimentation, I decided to take a leaf out of my recipe book [I'm so punny] and try a recipe I've seen quite a bit of, but never thought to bake myself.

Sticky Toffee Banana-Date Pudding with Salted Caramel Sauce
Adapted from Bon Appetit magazine.
Yields 12 cupcake-sized cakes.

You'll need:

  • 2 cups AP flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 cup [1 1/2 sticks] butter, at room temperature
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 very ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1 tbsp rum [substitute 1 tsp rum extract if desired, or omit completely]
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup medjool dates, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 12-cake cupcake tin.

Beat butter and brown sugar until fluffy. Add eggs, one at at time. Add bananas, rum, and vanilla and mix until blended. Slowly mix in flour and baking powder, until just incorporated. Stir in chopped dates. Divide batter equally among cups and bake for 20-22 mins, or until lightly golden on top.

While cakes are baking, prepare caramel sauce.

Once cakes have baked through, remove from the oven. Pour a heaping spoonful of caramel sauce on top of each cake. Return cakes to the oven and bake for another 3 minutes, until sauce is bubbling merrily. Allow cakes to cool 5 mins before removing from the pan. Serve warm or at room temperature, with a heaping scoop of caramel sauce poured on top.

Okay, yeah, so I used flour. And yeah, maybe it did result in a bit of discomfort after the fact. But these things are just so delicious that I couldn't help it. Plus, after weeks upon weeks without having baked anything, I figured I deserved it.



In any case, these are darling. And as much as I hate cupcakes, the cups make for ideal single-serving portions, I'm thinking. An excellent dinner party dessert served warm. Alternatively, an excellent addition to Sunday brunch served at room temperature. Something to keep tucked in the repertoire.

I would definitely recommend the use of very ripe bananas, though, as the cakes themselves can veer on the side of muffin-y, in terms of sweetness. The dates can be omitted, if that's not your fancy, but traditional sticky toffee pudding [an English classic; also, not a pudding in the traditional sense of the word, if you haven't already gotten that from the cake-like quality of the things] is chock-full of 'em, so I tossed them in for good measure. As for the sauce, anything caramel is gold, here, though butterscotch would likely work as well. You certainly don't have to use my salted caramel sauce recipe, but I love the play on flavors that salted caramel brings to a cake. And who doesn't love salted caramel? Seriously?

Not a damn soul.

And you know, it was weird - I never even realized anything was missing in my life until I had these sitting prettily in front of me, plopped on the couch with Noosh, laughing and weeping our way through Ten Inch Hero on Netflix instant [great film, FYI], and accepting the fact that we will never, in any world, manage to look like Danneel Ackles, with [and due to] mouths stuffed full of pudding cake soaked in salted caramel.

And all of a sudden, something clicked back into place.

Desserts are like mistresses; they are bad for you.
So if you're having one, you might as well have two.
Chef Alain Ducasse

Sunday, February 19, 2012

white chocolate truffle-trifle

"Truffle-trifle" is a bit of a mouthful. The reason is that it should just be "truffle cake." But baking disasters can sometimes lead to unexpected results.

Or at least, that's what I like to tell myself to retain some shred of self-preservation.

So, if you've been following this thing at all, you'll know that I have a major problem with layered desserts. Not like typical layered cakes smothered in a frosting of some sort, but mousses, custards, and stacked cakes. I honestly don't know what to do about it, save perhaps get a ring mold, and even then I wouldn't know how to use it adequately. Even worse when the filling itself doesn't work as expected and actually wedges its way beneath the sponge cake you've worked tirelessly to make perfectly and you end up with a half-sunk Titanic situation happening in your springform cake pan, complete with white chocolate filling seeping through the cracks that is nothing if not reminiscent of when the lower decks of the ship begin to flood and consequently fill you with a sense of deep-seated trepidation at the inevitable destruction of a once-great piece of art.

Or maybe that's just the product of a stressful week full of minor disappointments here and there, with a futile baking project as the metaphorical icing on the why-does-God-have-it-out-for-me-these-days cake.

Nevertheless, as I stood there watching white chocolate dripping solemnly onto the floor, I felt totally at peace. [I think it's because I fully expected something much worse, like a minor house fire or earthquake to swallow my Kitchen Aid whole, but nuances.] I watched it for several seconds, transfixed by the tragic beauty of the thing, before I overturned the truffle cake, salvaging the sponge base and most of the filling. I flipped through mental notes for a minute, scurrying through the kitchen, opening cabinets and muttering to myself [in my head or out loud, I'm not even sure], as Farnoosh glanced up in alarm to watch me buzzing about. She came over to ask if everything was alright and saw the disaster of a truffle cake on the counter. At this point, though, I had an idea ready, and grabbed a few of my prized ramekins from the ceramics basket, slamming them excitedly on the counter and grabbing a knife from my silverware drawer. Sliced the cake up into three small rounds, set them at the base of each ramekin, and poured the filling on top.

Voila. Truffle cake trifle. Noosh took each and put them in the fridge for me so they'd settle, we cleaned up the counter, and then ate the left over, white chocolate-soaked sponge cake. It ended up being quite a delicious disaster, in the end.

And perhaps even lovelier than the intended cake, sitting serenely in their ceramic ramekins like debutantes at a ball.

White Chocolate Truffle Trifle
Makes 4-6 small ramekins worth of trifle

For the sponge cake, you'll need:

  • 2 eggs
  • 4 tbsp sugar
  • 1 oz good-quality white chocolate, melted *
  • 1/3 cup flour
For the white chocolate filling, you'll need:
  • 1 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 12 oz good-quality white chocolate, chopped
  • 1 cup mascarpone cheese, softened

To prepare the cake:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line and grease a 9x13-inch pan with parchment paper. In a medium sized bowl, whisk sugar and eggs on high speed until light and frothy, about 10 minutes. Gently fold in flour and white chocolate. Pour filling onto pan and bake for 15-20 mins, until springy. Let cool in pan about 5 mins, then remove cake from pan and let cool completely on a wire rack.

To prepare the filling:
In a medium-sized saucepan, heat heavy cream to boiling. Lower the heat and add the chopped chocolate, stirring until the chocolate melts completely. Fold in the mascarpone cheese and stir until mixture is smooth. Allow filling to cool completely, about 1 hour. Stir periodically so the filling doesn't set.

To assemble the trifle:
Cut a circle the size of the base of each ramekin out of the sponge cake. Gently press the sliced cakes onto the base of the ramekins. Slowly spoon the cooled filling on top of the sponge cake, smoothing out the top. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, until completely set. 

*Note: Honestly, do not skimp on the quality of the white chocolate. Cheap chocolate will give the entire dessert an air of artificiality, since cheap chocolate itself tastes like over-sweetened plastic. Splurge on the good stuff - a nice Swiss or Belgian - or this dessert isn't worth the time.

It had been a rather long week, so Noosh, Matt and I decided to wind down with a dinner last night. It was originally intended to be a belated Valentine's Day dessert affair, since there wasn't much time to do any baking during the week [although Farnoosh made Valentine's night absolutely delicious with a silken-tofu chocolate pudding (quite possibly one of my favorite desserts of all time) to go along with our marathon of Supernatural season 2]. But after the week dragged on a bit too much for my happiness, we decided to just do a understated dinner party.

As much as I enjoy baking, there's nothing I love more than cooking. It's much more therapeutic than baking, since it requires less precision and stress and aesthetic disappointments are much less noticeable [okay, maybe I am still a little bitter]. I spent Wednesday and Thursday perfecting my, admittedly meager, menu, and eventually settled on a 3-course affair: toasted mascarpone-stuffed dates and seeded red grapes as hors d'oeuvres, followed by a simple salad of romaine lettuce and sliced tomatoes topped with a drizzle of Spanish olive oil and Portuguese sea salt, and then spaghetti cacio e pepe with freshly grated pecorino romano [hands-down the best pasta recipe you will eat in your entire life] for a relatively light main. And, of course, white chocolate truffle-trifle to round it off.

The entire affair stretched out over about 2 and a half hours, all the while with plenty of French-inspired acoustic music [my cooking playlist] and pleasant chatter in between. Not gonna lie, it was an impressively sophisticated event.

Though, honestly, there is little I can complain about after having seen my favorite band in concert on Friday night, having spent the better part of 3 hours wanting nothing more than to have an intimate relationship with the lead singer's voice.

To be fair, by the end of the week, even after the baking adventure [which took place on Friday afternoon], things were looking up. A bit of reading, a new cookbook, an absolutely fantastic Blind Pilot concert, and catching up on schoolwork does wonders for one's psyche. And then a delicious meal with old friends to look forward to, and then you realize that small disappointments are worth bearing because it makes you appreciate the good things even more.

Particularly when the end result is the most delicious trifle you've ever eaten in your entire life. And I am now metaphorically flipping the bird at conventionality.

Strength is the capacity to break a chocolate bar into four pieces with your bare hands
- and then eat just one of the pieces.  
Judith Viorst

Friday, February 10, 2012

tall, dark, and handsome cake with blackberry preserves [and an ethical 21st birthday]

I love sound. It's my favorite sense after taste, I think.

I love buzzing chatter. The nice kind, mind you, when you're at a coffee shop with your laptop in the midst of writing a paper for a class with the soft hum of people musing to one another over lattes and biscotti.

I love laughter. Even irritating, too-loud laughter that kind of makes you want to punch the person after too long, but knowing that they're happy is the only thing keeping you from doing it.

I love music. Listening to a favorite playlist while speed-walking through grounds on the way to class, too distracted by the lyrics to notice your friends trying to get your attention as you brush past them without sparing a glance.

Lately, I love wiring my laptop up to my speaker system and listening to soundtracks playing in the background as I bustle about the kitchen. For this particular baking endeavor, I alternated between James Vincent McMorrow and the gorgeous soundtrack to Midnight in Paris. It made for a soothing touch as I struggled fruitlessly to keep the layers from toppling over and getting chocolate frosting on absolutely every inch of counter space physically accessible.

It was real cute, let me tell you.

But in the end, Cole Porter kept me sane, and I was able to put together a rather homely-looking birthday cake for two wonderful friends.

Dark Chocolate and Raspberry Layer Cake with Chocolate Frosting 
Adapted from bella eats and Healthy. Happy. Life.
Yields one 3-layer, 8-inch cake.

For the cake, you'll need:
  • 3 oz semisweet chocolate
  • 1 1/2 cups hot, brewed coffee
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups AP flour
  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk [for dairy free, substitute 1 1/2 cups soy milk plus 1 tbsp cider vinegar, well mixed and set aside ~5 mins to curdle]
  • 3/4 tsp vanilla
  • your choice preserves, for layers [raspberry, blackberry, or strawberry work best]

For chocolate buttercream, you'll need:
  • 2/3 cup [1 1/2 sticks, 12 tbsp, 6 oz] butter
  • 2/3 cup melted chocolate
  • 4-6 tbsp soy milk
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 4 cups confectioner's sugar

To prepare the cake:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and grease and flour three 8-inch cake pans. Line bottom of the pans with wax paper and grease.

In a small heat-proof bowl, combine chocolate chips and hot coffee, stirring until the mixture is smooth. In a large bowl, sift flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Set both aside.

In another large bowl, beat eggs on medium-high speed until thickened and lemon in color, about 3 minutes. Slowly add oil, buttermilk, vanilla, and melted chocolate mixture. Beat until fully incorporated. Lower speed and gradually add flour mixture, beating until batter is just combined. 

Divide batter among the pans and bake for 45-50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool layers in their pans on a cooling rack. Once cooled, run a knife along the edges of the pans and invert the cakes onto the cooling rack. Slowly peel away wax paper and let layers cool completely.

To prepare the frosting:
On medium-high speed, cream the butter until light and fluffy, about 3 mins. Add melted chocolate and vanilla and beat. Lower mixer speed to low and slowly add in confectioner's sugar, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Once sugar is added, increase mixer speed to medium. Pour in soy milk until the mixture has the preferred consistency - this will vary, and may need less than 4 tbsp or more than 6 depending on your preference. Beat frosting until light. Refrigerate until using.

To assemble the cake:
Place one of the cake layers on a serving plate. Spread a generous amount of raspberry preserves [I do about 2/3 cup worth] on top of the layer. Frost the top of the preserves with a bit of the frosting. Place second layer on top and repeat. Place third layer on top and use the remaining frosting to frost the top and sides of the cake. Refrigerate until serving.

Chelsea and Roods celebrated a joint birthday dinner last night, for which I happily offered to bake the cake. I wanted something quite different from last year's coconut layer cake with lemon curd filling, and so opted for chocolate. Ethical, and chocolate. The thought was a bit daunting, which obviously meant I was going to take up the challenge.

In actuality, the cake was a breeze to make even with the restriction to ethical ingredients. Chelsea provided me with her preferred eggs and butter, and soy milk took care of the rest. In the end, it didn't taste any different from what one would expect from a chocolate cake with chocolate frosting.

And, ethical fun fact: Ghirardelli's semisweet chocolate chips [you know, the ones they sell next to the Nestle for an extra 60 cents or what have you] are made with soy lecithin. I just love happy coincidences.

I went with blackberries for this one, as I love the earthy tartness of blackberries against the bitter chocolate. A bit more sophisticated than raspberry, which was quite fitting for a classy little dessert and cocktail/mocktail night. Chelsea even made the world's most adorable [vegan] margarita cupcakes for the occasion. It was all rather precious.

So, in the end, it was two hours spent with cake, cupcakes, and drinks. All the while with a lovely backdrop of chatter, laughter, and music.

Because, really, what more do you need for a good night?

Happy 21st birthdays, my darlings Chelsea and Rudhdi. I hope this next year is filled with pleasant sounds, piquant tastes, and lots of happy memories. Love always.

    Sunday, January 29, 2012

    lemon-blueberry layer cake [with a side of sugar coma]

    The benefit of living in a city that seems to have totally forgotten that winter is a season, is that it allows one to stroll downtown with old friends on a January afternoon with nothing but a jacket and good conversation for warmth. When that group of friends is comprised of wonderful people you've known for over a decade, it almost feels like summertime.

    I can't actually believe that I've known these people as long as I have. These 'people', of course, meaning Nitya, Hannah, Noosh, Georgia, Matt, and Tommy. Elementary school friends. Fourth grade. All of us weren't particularly close back then, and I don't think any of us would have imagined that an odd-13 years later we would still be in touch, let alone driving down to visit one another for belated birthday parties, shopping trips, and coffee dates. It's amazing, really, when I think about it.

    Much of my childhood was spent moving from place to place. I was born out of the country and my parents moved to the States when I was two. I grew up in the north; random cities in New York from apartments to townhouses while my parents scraped together enough money for a new life in a country very different from their own. It was a learning experience for them, certainly, though all my memories of frigid winters and breezy summers come primarily from photos and stories. There are the occasional genuine memories of course - I recall living next to an elderly couple whose home I would often visit to see their numerous pets and, on lazy days, plates of cookies and glasses of lemonade. I don't remember their names, but I do remember their kindness.

    When I was about 7 years old, arm in a hot pink cast from a rather ungraceful fall off of a sofa, we moved to Virginia. Leaving yet another group of friends behind - I changed schools about 4 times while in the north as it was - I started the third grade rather alone. A few months went by, turning 8 years old and meeting new people, before we moved yet again to a different city. It was there that my parents decided to finally settle down for good, and it's there that they live to this day (after having moved to a different house this summer, but remaining in the same general location). I started spring of the third grade, yet again on my own, and found myself best friends with the entire third grade faculty. The following year I was transferred to the gifted program, and it's at that moment my life finally settled down. I finally met the people I would keep in my heart for the next 13 years.

    Nitya was, essentially, my first true friend in elementary school. It was sometime at the beginning of fourth grade when we were all in the cafeteria for lunch, my younger sister's class heading back to their room - she was in the first grade at the time - and I caught her eye and gave a reassuring wave.

    "Is that your sister?" Nitya asked me from across the table. I hadn't even realized she was paying any mind.

    "Yes," or at least some derivative of an affirmative. I don't remember much of the details, but from there we  got to talking about whatever it is that goes through the minds of two fourth grade girls, and before long we had developed a close friendship.

    A close friendship which, having expanded to the Fab Four and others who I first met that year as the fourth grader who finally found her place, has survived over a decade. It is remarkable, truly.

    Lemon-blueberry Layer Cake with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting
    Adapted from Sweetapolita.
    Yields one 3-layer, 8-inch cake.

    For the cake, you'll need:

    • 2 cups plus 6 tbsp flour
    • 2 tsp baking powder
    • 1 tsp salt
    • 3 cups fresh or frozen blueberries, thawed and patted dry
    • 3/4 cup buttermilk
    • 2 tsp vanilla
    • 2 tbsp lemon juice
    • 1 tsp lemon zest
    • 1 cup [2 sticks] butter, softened
    • 1 1/2 cups sugar
    • 4 eggs
    • lemon curd, for layering

    For the lemon cream cheese frosting, you'll need:
    • 2 8-oz packages of cream cheese, softened
    • 3/4 cup [1 1/2 sticks] butter, softened
    • 2 tbsp lemon
    • 1 tsp lemon zest
    • 2 tsp vanilla
    • 4 cups confectioner's sugar

    To prepare the cake:
    Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and grease and flour three 8-inch cake pans. In a small bowl, toss blueberries with one tablespoon of flour. In a medium-sized bowl, sift flour remaining flour, baking powder, and salt. In another small bowl, whisk buttermilk, lemon juice, lemon zest, and vanilla. Set both bowls aside.

    Cream butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 5 mins. Add eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Alternate adding flour mixture and buttermilk mixture, beginning and ending with flour. Gently fold in blueberries by hand. Divide batter among cake pans and bake for 25-30 mins, or until golden brown and set. Remove cakes from the pans and cool to room temperature.

    To prepare the cream cheese frosting:
    Cream butter and cream cheese on medium speed until fluffy, about 5 mins. Add lemon juice, lemon zest, and vanilla and mix. Lower speed and gently add in the sugar, and beat until light. Refrigerate until using.

    To assemble the cake:
    Place one layer on a serving plate. Frost the top of the layer with a generous amount of lemon curd. Spread a thin layer of the cream cheese frosting on top. Place second layer on top of the base and repeat. Place third layer on top and thinly frost the top and sides of the cake with a crumb coat. Refrigerate both the cake and the frosting for about 30 mins. Remove from the fridge and use remaining frosting to frost the top and sides. Garnish with a frosting border or lemon, if desired.

    This weekend, 13 years later, my dear friend drove 4 hours up to the apartment - alongside the Blue Ridge Mountains, so she didn't mind too, too much - to spend the weekend with Noosh and I. Hannah drove down from her university as well, and so we had a wonderful weekend of Fab Four bonding, complete with diet Snapple and trashy magazines, visiting the downtown mall with Matt and Georgia and enjoying dessert with Tommy. 

    Since Nitya was in Italy for the semester, I was unable to surprise her with a 21st birthday cake as I did for Hannah and Farnoosh. So for her big visit this weekend, she and I worked together on her belated birthday cake. After a lazy afternoon in used bookshops - a rather successful visit if I do say so myself, thanks to a wonderful local book shop owner named Dave - it was a lovely treat to enjoy in the evening. So happy belated birthday, my darling Nitya. I can't believe I've celebrated so many birthdays with you, and hope to celebrate many more in future. Without you, fourth grade would have been an enormous bore. 

    Unfortunately, two days was not nearly enough for the four of us, but we made the most of the time we had with good food and more lovely memories to add to our repertoire. 

    After all, we have all the time in the world for more.

    Friday, January 27, 2012

    {DBC} blueberry-lemon scones

    I have to admit, I was rather pleased when I read this month's Daring Baker's Challenge recipe. Pleased and also amused, given my anglophilic tendencies as of late, most notably with the release of series 2 of BBC's incredible Sherlock.

    [Of which I have gushed about more than enough in all manners of communication possible to a moderately technologically-inclined college student, so I will say nothing here. Except that it remains the best television series ever produced.]

    It is not actually the 27th at the moment; in fact, it's the 22nd, but I'm amidst a rather lazy Sunday morning and so decided to take a break from Douglas Adams with a bit of blogging.

    As it were, I'm sitting at my desk with headphones humming Rossini and a mug of steaming hot chocolate [a cup of milk heated with a tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa powder, a few bittersweet chocolate chips, a splash of cream, a sprinkle of cinnamon, and a pinch of chili powder if I'm feeling particularly daring (which, today, I was not)], watching the first snow of 2012 drifting unassumingly onto car roofs and tree branches, and the whole image is picturesque in a wonderfully pretentious way. But I figure a bit of faux-class on a Sunday morning after a first week of classes was forgivable.

    Well, first week for most - one day for me. I've lucked out somewhat this term with my schedule, which leaves me with Wednesdays and Fridays off from class. Had I not had a part-time job [which fills my vacant week days], it would be a dream. But given my habit of spending all of my free time on Amazon.com and fiendish bargain-hunting for clothes online, I'll keep the job. Nevertheless, it's not going to be as lax of a semester as I'd have liked, what with a full load of philosophy seminars and history courses in Spanish [and a course in financial mathematics which I am choosing to pretend does not actually exist]. So I've been trying to fit in as much Hitchhiker's Guide as possible before Avicenna, Aristotle, and Nagel become my literary constants.

    It had been going somewhat well until I became distracted by Tina Fey's Bossypants.

    Blueberry-Lemon Buttermilk Scones
    Adapted from the January 2012 Daring Baker's Challenge
    Recipe yields 8-12 scones, depending on the size.

    For the scones, you'll need:

    • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
    • 2 heaping tsp baking powder
    • 1/2 tsp baking soda
    • 1/4 tsp salt
    • 2 tbsp sugar
    • 1/2 tsp lemon zest
    • 8 tbsp butter, cold and cut into cubes
    • 1/2 cup buttermilk
    • 1/4 cup whole milk
    • 1 tbsp lemon juice
    • 1 cup blueberries, either fresh or frozen

    For the lemon glaze, you'll need:
    • 3/4 cup confectioner's sugar, sifted
    • 2 tbsp lemon juice

    Preheat oven to 400 degrees Farhenheit and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, sugar, and lemon zest and mix thoroughly. Cut in butter with a pastry cutter or your hands [or do the entire thing in an electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment] until crumbly.

    In another small bowl, mix milk, buttermilk, and lemon juice until uniform. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture. Slowly pour about three-quarters of the milk mixture in the well, and knead the dough. If the dough is too try, add more of the milk. You may not need to use all of the liquid. Once dough is at the proper texture [it should come together, but should not be too sticky], gently add in the blueberries.

    Using your hands, roll out biscuit-sized balls of dough and place on the baking sheet, three inches apart. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until tops are golden-brown. Let cool on the baking sheet for 5 mins before transferring to a serving plate.

    To prepare the glaze, stir confectioner's sugar and lemon juice until the mixture is smooth. The consistency should be thin, but not watery. Add more confectioner's sugar or lemon juice as necessary. Pour the glaze on top of the warm scones and serve immediately.

    The DBC recipe as given was for plain scones/biscuits, but I altered the recipe to allow for buttermilk, lemon, and blueberries, and this is the recipe that I've typed up. The texture of these is unbelievable, and the glaze is such an amazing touch. It helps that I am absolutely enamored with scones - they are, in fact, carbohydrates in their most transcendental form - and so I had quite a lot of fun coming up with, what I hoped would be, a fantastic flavor combination. I also did a buttermilk version of my oatmeal-raisin scones from a few months ago, which we ate with a spread of cherry preserves.

    The scones were made yesterday afternoon with the help of my darlings Matt and Kyana, who had come to our apartment for an afternoon of Sherlock series 2, which Matt had not seen in its entirety. It was all very posh and adorable, gathered around the coffee table with a basket of scones, an assortment of teas, some quality conversation and theorizing about Moffat, Gatiss, and Thompson's incredible scripts, and Benedict Cumberbatch's unbelievably provocative voice serenading us with superhuman deductions.

    [Did I say I was going to shut up about Sherlock? I should also have mentioned that I am an enormous hypocrite.]

    If all goes as planned, the weekend of the 27th should be spent with my darling Nitya, who has graciously decided to make the long trek up to our apartment. I anticipate lots of baking and good food. Perhaps some quality television, even a trek downtown for used books. But the food is a given.

    It's been a very fine start to 2012, I have to say.