Friday, November 27, 2015

Mmm... Cheese...

First, I'll confess: we did not completely comport with the rules of the challenge this month. Basically we were at the whims of a baby's sleeping schedule and had a limited time window on a Sunday in which to bake together, so we needed a recipe that could be prepared and eaten in a few hours. Most of the savory cheesecakes out there required a lot of waiting (like 6 hours to overnight). This one didn't. It also had no crust. But it was absolutely delicious!

Also: thank goodness for food processors. Because hand-grating all of those carrots and zucchinis would've taken ages.

Very pretty results though.

We sauteed them all up with some onions and garlic.

Then into the buttered, bread-crumbed pan. 

Not the most attractive thing ever, pre-baking.

Midway through, we took it out of the oven, dredged tomatoes in breadcrumbs and parmesan, and layered them on top. This was our "crumble."

The end product smelled divine and was pretty to boot.

We had a little difficulty getting it out of the springform because we didn't let it sit as long as we were supposed to (due to cranky baby) but in the end it turned out fine. Better than fine. Quite delectable and decadent, nicely complemented by salad and a baguette. This recipe was a keeper!

For the month of November Krista & Nicole of Two Cups of Sugar.” challenged us to make our own version of cheesecake crumble pie.


Savory Vegetable Cheesecake

"This delicious main-dish cheesecake comes from Mollie Katzen's "The Enchanted Broccoli Forest," which is a delightful vegetarian cookbook. A wonderful way to use us those garden veggies. It is also wonderful served as an appetizer that guests can spread onto little pieces of toast."

3 cups grated zucchini
3 tablespoons butter
1 cup minced onion
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup grated carrot
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon basil
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/4 cup freshly minced parsley
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3 cups ricotta cheese
1 cup grated mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese (please use fresh)
4 large eggs
fresh ground black pepper
2 medium tomatoes, sliced into rounds,then sliced in half so the slices look like the letter D
3-4 tablespoons breadcrumbs

Preheat oven to 375 degrees farenheit.

Butter a 10" springform pan and sprinkle with breadcrumbs, set aside.

Put the grated zucchini into a colander. Salt lightly, and let is sit about 15 minutes, then squeeze out any excess moisture.

Saute the onions in butter with 1/2 t salt. When they start to turn translucent, add the carrots, garlic, zucchini, flour, basil and oregano.  Keep stirring and cook over medium heat for about 8 minutes.
Remove from heat and stir in the parsley and lemon.

Beat the cheeses and eggs together until well blended. (Hello, Kitchenaid mixer!) When the cheese and egg mixture is nice and fluffy, fold in the veggies. Season to taste with black pepper.

Pour the mixture into the springform pan.

Bake uncovered for 30 minutes-- then pull it out for a minute.

Remember those tomatoes? Dredge them in the breadcrumbs and decorate the top of the cheesecake with them in a pretty spiral pattern. [We added Parmesan cheese to the breadcrumbs!]

Reduce the oven heat to 350 degrees, and bake another 30 minutes.

Turn off the oven and just let the cheesecake sit in there for another 15 minutes. Then, take it out of the oven and let it cool about 10 more minutes before cutting and serving.

Monday, November 2, 2015

For want of a scale (and a photo of our finished product!)

Erica and I were challenged to make macarons for this month's daring bakers event. Even though we've done this before, we were excited to try a new method. And to partake in the customary fall baking strategy -- making everything taste like pumpkin pie.

While we lacked a kitchen scale to really perfect this recipe, we did try to make sure our almonds were finely ground.

We went with pumpkin pie spice in the meringue, and pumpkin in the buttercream. And some orange food coloring for style.

Piping went well, despite our ad hoc pastry bag. 

Per the new "Italian" method, we left the finished merigues out to dry before baking.

 Sadly, however, our cookies were without the tell-tale feet, and certainly a little squishier than we would have liked. Good flavor though, especially after being chilled in the freezer.

For the month of October we got to take on one of many bakers' deepest, darkest kitchen nightmares : macarons. Our talented bakers Korena from Korena in the Kitchen and Rachael from pizzarossa made the intimidating task of mastering these French beauties a breeze.

Macaron shells using the Italian meringue method
Servings: 30 x 4cm / 1 1/2” filled macarons
(original recipe in grams)
140g / 4.9 oz ground almonds, room temperature
140g / 4.9 oz powdered (confectioner’s) sugar
100g / 3.5 oz egg white (from approx. 3 eggs), room temperature, divided 50/50
100g / 3.5 oz granulated (white) sugar
40g / 1.4 oz (weight) water
A few pinches of pumpkin pie spice
1. Prepare 2 parchment (not wax paper) lined baking sheets. They need to be big enough to hold 30 x 4cm / 1 1/2” diameter shells each. (I have my piping guide under the baking paper here.)
2. Mix the ground almonds and powdered sugar (and cocoa powder, if using) together in a bowl, then grind in a food processor until you have an extra fine texture. You may need to do this in batches, depending on the size of your food processor.
3. Sift into a large bowl (I use a mesh strainer and push the mixture through with a spatula), putting any bigger pieces of almond back into the food processor to re-grind.
4. Add 50g egg whites and mix thoroughly into the almond mixture. At this point, you can add food colouring or flavouring such as vanilla seeds, citrus zest, essense, if desired. (I added 1/2 tsp vanilla paste and 1/2 tsp red powder food colouring to this batch.) Set aside.
5. In another bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer, scrupulously clean and free of any oil or egg yolk, beat the other 50g egg whites to stiff peaks.
6. Meanwhile, put the granulated sugar and water into a small heavy-based saucepan and heat on medium-low to 118°C / 244°F, without stirring.
7. While whisking constantly on low speed (to avoid splashing hot syrup), slowly add the cooked sugar mixture to the beaten egg whites, pouring it down the inside edge of the bowl. You’ll get a bit of it hardening on the side of the bowl, but that’s okay – just leave it there.
8. Whisk at high speed until the mixture is cool, about 3 minutes. About 1 minute before the end, you can add food colouring, if not done at the almond paste stage. The mixture should increase in volume and become firm and shiny, and it should be thick and marshmallowy when you lift the whisk.
9. Scrape the meringue onto the almond mixture and incorporate with a rubber or silicone spatula. You do actually want to get a lot of the air out of the mixture – you do this by folding and squashing the mixture against the side of the bowl, rotating the bowl a quarter turn with each fold. Be sure to firmly scrape the bottom of the bowl with the spatula, so you don’t leave a layer of almond paste there.
10. Mix until you have a homogenous batter that runs from the spatula in a thick ribbon.
11. Transfer the mixture into a piping bag fitted with a 7 – 9mm / #10 - #12 plain round tip (this is best done in two batches, so you don’t overfill the bag). Pipe 60 equally sized rounds, about 4cm / 1 1/2” in diameter, in staggered rows onto the prepared sheets. Hold the piping bag upright with the tip just above the sheet and pipe without pulling upwards or swirling in circles, so the batter comes out in a round blob around the tip, and give a little sideways flick at the end to break the stream.
12. Tap the baking sheet firmly on the bench several times to release air bubbles and obtain a smooth surface. If you have any tips sticking up, press them gently down with a damp fingertip.
13. Leave the tray to rest at room temperature for at least 20 minutes until a slight skin forms. If you touch it, it should be only just tacky.
14. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 150°C / 300°F / Gas Mark 2. Bake the macarons in the centre of the oven for 18 minutes (20 minutes if using cocoa in the shells), one sheet at a time, turning the sheet half-way.
15. Remove from oven and remove the parchment from the tray with the shells still on it and place on a cooling racks for at least 30 minutes, until completely cool, then remove macaron shells carefully from the parchment.
16. If not filling straight away, store in an airtight container at room temperature, separating layers with parchment. Otherwise, fill and store in an airtight container in the fridge to mature for at least 24 hours before eating.

Swiss meringue buttercream frosting
Servings: about 2 cups of buttercream (approx. twice the amount needed to fill 30 macarons, but the excess can be frozen)
1/2 cup / 100g / 3.5 oz granulated sugar
2 large egg whites
pinch salt
1 1/2 sticks / 3/4 cup / 180 g / 6 oz unsalted butter
1. Cut the butter into 1/2 inch / 1 1/2cm cubes and set out to soften to room temperature.
2. Put the sugar, egg whites, and salt in a large, scrupulously clean heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Whisk the mixture constantly (this is to prevent it from turning into scrambled eggs, not to beat it into a meringue) and heat it until the mixture is hot to the touch and the sugar has dissolved completely (about 130˚F / 54°C).
3. With an electric mixer, beat the egg white mixture on medium-high speed until it turns into a thick, fluffy, stiff-peaked meringue (mine never quite reaches stiff peaks and still turns out fine). Test the temperature of the meringue with your finger – it should be completely cooled to room temperature and not warm AT ALL. If it is still warm, keep stirring on low speed until the mixture is completely cool to the touch. (This is very important because the next step is to add butter, and if the meringue is warm it will just melt rather than emulsify into a buttercream.)
4. While the meringue cools, check on your softening butter cubes: you should be able to squish the butter with your finger. You want it soft enough to spread but not at all melted. The key to successful Swiss meringue buttercream is to have the meringue at room temperature and the butter just soft enough to mix in.
5. Once the meringue is cool and the butter soft, turn the mixer to medium-low speed and begin adding the butter to the meringue one cube at a time, waiting until each cube is incorporated before adding the next. Your meringue may collapse and look kind of curdled and shiny: this is normal. Just keep slowly adding the butter, one cube at a time, and continue mixing. It will start looking thicker and chunky, and then suddenly it will be buttercream. Once all the butter is added, increase the speed to medium and mix until it is smooth, thick, and fluffy.