Friday, September 28, 2012

Sneak Peek: Autumn Baking & Book Review

The BEST Sous-Chef EVA!
We're humming at a steady pace at Casa De SweetTeeth!  There is an annual family clambake tomorrow and we're bringing along a recipe we're testing.  All the flavors of fall are going into that bundt pan, rest assured.  My little pastry-chef-in-training is quite the little helper and thrilled to pieces that she can help me with some simple chopping along with her usual measuring and mixing. 
There are some recipes I'd rather do solo with perfect quiet in the house, but this one is for
Here's a hint on what's baking:
I also managed to tear through a book in one day while said Sous-Chef was at preschool.  I liked it so much that I thought you might too, so I'm going to review it here at Sweet Teeth soon.  If you love baking, and you fantasize about having your own quaint coffee & cake business, you would do yourself right by reading this one.  It's funny, it's touching, and real.  AND it reminds me that most at-home bakers are right where they belong, AT HOME.
Stay tuned for today's mystery baking project revealed!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Triple Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Icing & Bell Granola

This weekend was my Hubby's birthday.  As mentioned subtlety before, he's not a huge sweets fan.  That's not to say  he has a few very special desserts in his repertoire.  They are few but specific and I couldn't resist indulging him on his special day. 

On most endeavors of the sweet kind I would go 100% homemade.  You know me to approve of an occasional shortcut, because, well, I sincerely believe that like most people, I have times in my schedule where I cannot feasibly make everything from scratch.  What I do think is important is to have some element of the dish homemade, and often it's enough to elevate something from nearly store-bought to from the heart.

Two of Hubby's faves: French Silk Pie and anything combining peanut butter and chocolate.

I started with a ready-made crust and opted to make the filling and whipped cream from scratch.  All I can say about it is that it looked great, but the shortcut on the crust was honestly an epic fail.  I thought that I could trust a basic frozen pie crust and I was wrong.  It crumbled, did not hold together and tasted stale.  Lesson learned.  Luckily, I had decided on a partner for the pie ahead of time.

A Looker.  A Deception.  Moral?
I wasn't sure one pie would be enough for our birthday celebration guests, so I decided to have a pie sidekick, as it were.  I elected some quick box-mix triple chocolate cupcakes but went for the gusto with peanut butter icing, a favorite go-to recipe from the goddess herself, Ina Garten.  I have never gone wrong with this one, folks.

Because I had done it before, I wanted one new element on these cupcakes to really say "special."  Sprinkling homemade sweet-salty granola on these cakes gave them a birthday lift, and seriously, made them look and taste like they came from a gourmet cupcakery.  The granola recipe was a gift passed along through family members, originating from family friend Joy Bell.  I was so thankful that Joy would be okay with me posting her recipe for your enjoyment - because - it's so. very. good.  Thank you, Bell Family!

Sometimes it's okay to take a shortcut, and sometimes it will fail.  But often times the homemade part of the dish more than makes up for the loss.  That's why I'm sharing the wins from Hubby's birthday.  I hope they become the dog-eared recipes in your box, too!

Kathleen's Peanut Butter Icing:
from Ina Garten  Barefoot Contessa at Home
  • 1 cup confectioners' sugar
  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter (note: we are a Jif family)
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
Place the confectioners' sugar, peanut butter, butter, vanilla, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on medium-low speed until creamy, scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula as you work. Add the cream and beat on high speed until the mixture is light and smooth.
Bell Family Granola:
courtesy of Joy Bell
Lovely eaten out of hand, atop ice cream, yogurt, or cupcakes!  Mix into hot oatmeal or atop pancakes for a special treat!  I love that my 3 year-old was able to help me split the pecans with her little butterknife, too!
  • 3 cups rolled oats  (not quick)
  • 1 cup slivered almonds
  • 1 cup pecans (cut in half lengthwise)
  • 3/4 cup shredded sweet coconut
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup canola or vegetable oil *plus a bit more on your hands for mixing
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine oats, nuts, coconut, brown sugar, and cinnamon.  In a separate bowl, combine the maple syrup, oil, and salt.  Whisk until thick.  Pour the wet mixture over the dry mixture and toss together until well combined (*oiled hands help here).  Spread out on a baking sheet.  Bake 1 hour and 15 minutes.  Start checking at about 45-50 minutes.  Once it is a light golden brown, lift with a spatula and break into bite sized pieces.  Continue to bake the remainder of the time, turn off oven, and leave the granola in the oven to completely dry.  Store in an airtight container.


Monday, September 10, 2012

Port Poached Pear Chocolate Tart

Intensely Chocolate.  Intensely Elegant.

I may have lost all of my readers in this nearly month long absence from blogging, but for anyone who stuck by me, thank you.  It's been hectic and trying lately, but rest assured I've been missing Sweet Teeth more than anyone!  I'm thankful for each and every reader who chose to read this post instead of reading their Facebook feed or turning to the television.  I LOVE YA!

Just when I felt like I was losing my nerve, I remembered a recipe I had seen in my Cooks Country issue about chocolate desserts.  When you're stressed, chocolate just sounds So. Very. Right.  And, for me, when I'm stressed, I am inspired to find the most complicated sweet dessert and try to make it immediately.  Something about immersion in a difficult task just helps me shut out anything else on my mind and get the energy flowing.

You know that a recipe is going to be difficult when the folks from America's Test Kitchen/Cooks Country tells you that it's prone to pitfalls.  When most people flee, my eyebrow is raised and I hear the trumpets call me to the challenge.

Plus using port wine sounded really, er, relaxing.

May I introduce the players?

Three Lovely Bartlett Pears
Everyone's Friend, Bittersweet Chocolate
Port, Spices, Orange Peel

Into the Hot Tub, My Pretties!
I have to stop and mention that in process of making this tart, the weather went from hot and humid to cool and autumnal.  One of the things that made this recipe approachable to me was that each element (crust, filling, pears) could be done at some stage ahead of time and combined for the finished dessert.  Having a few days of prep time during a hectic week combined with the change of seasons was like a well choreographed ballet.  It also builds tremendous suspense and pressure for success!
What eases suspense and pressure?
The Delightful, Comforting Fragrance of Pears Poaching in Port, Peppercorn, Cinnamon, Clove and Orange Peel.

My Husband Said To Make Sure I Tell You Our House Smelled Like Autumn In Heaven.
Did I Mention He is Not A Lover of Sweets?
I realized at the end of the poaching process that the ripeness of the pear is critical to the perfection of this tart.  It's the difference between "it's good" and "Oh. My. God."
I feel that the overall result of this tart was great, but could have been on a restaurant menu had I just given my pears their bath a day sooner in their ripeness.  In order for them to truly absorb the poaching liquid enough to bring a jeweled red hue able to withstand the final bake in the oven, they needed just a bit more firmness.  In order to maximize flavor and compensate, I allowed them to cool and stay safely in the poaching liquid, refrigerated, for two days.  Best possible move, and a bonus when you are trying to spread out the steps of this tart over a bit of time.  Forgiving!
An Elegant Poached Pear and Bittersweet Chocolate Had A Baby!
Served with a side of home made vanilla whipped cream, a fork, and a cool early autumn evening, this is poetry.  Even I totally underestimated the perfect balance that the spices and port would have against the bittersweet chocolate.  This lovely blooming fruit supported by a duo of soft and firm cocoa textures is utterly unforgettable.  
I have spent an entire day making a recipe and felt my satisfaction meter pulse, but Never, Ever, be afraid to invest energy over time in a dessert.  Even before it baked it was clear a lot of love went into bringing three distinct steps together and into my oven.
Would A Rose By Any Other Name Taste As Sweet?
Cooks Country Chocolate Pear Tart
(Serves 8-10 People with Restraint, 4-6 Intense Chocolate Fans)
Tart Shell
1 cup (5 oz) all-purpose flour
2/3 cup (2 2/3 oz) confectioner's sugar
1/4 cup (3/4 oz) Dutch-processed cocoa
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces and chilled
1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Chocolate Filling
4 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped (I used Ghirardelli 60% bittersweet)
4 tablespoons butter, cut into 4 pieces
2 large eggs, room temperature
1/3 cup (2 2/3 oz) granulated sugar
Pinch salt
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
Poached Pears
3 cups ruby port
1/2 cup (3 1/2 oz) granulated sugar
4 strips orange zest
1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
3 ripe but firm pears (I used Bartlett) peeled, halved lengthwise, and cored
2 tablespoons apple jelly, melted
For the Tart Shell pulse flour, sugar, cocoa, and salt together in food processor until combined, about 3 pulses.  Scatter butter pieces over top and pulse until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal, about 15 pulses.  Add egg yolk, cream, and vanilla and process until dough just comes together* about 15 seconds.  Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour (or up to 2 days). 
*I thought this dough would never come together.  Seemed crumbly even after refrigeration and I feared it would never roll out enough to put into the tart pan.  It does work.  Stay with it!
For the Chocolate Filling microwave chocolate and butter in medium bowl, stirring occasionally, until smooth, about 1 minute.  Set aside to cool slightly.  Using stand mixer fitted with a whisk, whip eggs, sugar, and salt together on medium-high speed until pale yellow and thick, about 3 minutes.  Fold one-third of egg mixture into chocolate mixture until combined, then fold in remaining egg mixture.   Sift flour over chocolate mixture and gently fold until combined.  Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate 1 hour (or up to 2 days.)
For the Poached Pears bring port, sugar, zest, cinnamon, peppercorns, and cloves to a boil in medium saucepan, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves.  Reduce heat to low, add pears, and simmer, covered, until pears are nearly tender, about 10 minutes.  Remove from heat and let cool, about 1 hour.  (Pears can be refrigerated in poaching liquid for up to 3 days).**
**Aside from making your house smell great AND making a pear tart, this poaching liquid can be reduced by half at a later time, strained, and spooned over ice cream.  Guess how I know that? Mmmmmm.
To Assemble and Bake the Tart on a floured counter, roll chilled dough out to 11-inch circle.  Fit dough into a 9 inch tart pan with removable bottom, trim dough to be flush with pan edge, and freeze for 30 minutes.  Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees.  Press 12 inch piece of aluminum foil into shell, covering edges, and fill shell with pie weights.***  Set tart pan on rimmed baking sheet and bake until set, about 30 minutes.   Gently remove foil and weights and set baking sheet on wire rack; let shell cool completely, about 1 hour. 
*** I didn't have pie weights, but I had a bag of dried navy beans that I used instead of pie weights.  It worked perfectly, and after removing them from the blind baking process and cooling them, I saved them for my next blind baked crust!  Yay!
Reduce oven time temperature to 325 degrees.  Using slotted spoon, remove pears from liquid, pat dry, and cut each into quarters.  (Reserve that liquid for another use!  It's GOLD, I say!)  Spread chilled filling over cooled crust.  Arrange pear slices in concentric circles, overlapping slightly.  Bake tart until filling has puffed up and center feels firm to touch, about 45 to 55 minutes.  Let cool on wire rack at least 1 hour.  Brush pears with melted jelly and serve warm or at room temperature**** with whipped cream.
**** I received no complaints from those who got this as a leftover, cold from the fridge.  Bring this to a party and you won't have leftovers to test this theory! 
Satisfaction meter?  Unequivocally FIVE.  Thank you, Cook's Country!