Thursday, April 30, 2009

"Totoro" Cream Puffs!

Totoro running away from Labbit

Surely by now you have seen annathered's fantastic step-by-step tutorial on how to make everyone's favorite forest spirit in glorious edible form. If you have not, you absolutely need to go visit her blog and squee at the cuteness. (While you are there you should also check out her amazing Domokun marshmallows.)

(And, doesn't Totoro look like he's running away from the Labbit? I need to photoshop a scream of panic into it.)

Anyway, Mr. Pyota knew a good thing when he saw it and promptly sent the link my way. And with a weekend coming up, I knew what I was going to be doing! The reason I said "Totoro" in my post title is that my puffs are definitely not up to snuff compared with annathered's, but I like to think that if you squint, they bear a slight resemblance to Totoro.

Totoro Cream Puff meets Totoro

(As an aside, My Neighbor Totoro is one of my favorite movies and if you have not seen it, DO IIIIIT. What are you waiting for! It's so good, trust me. And you'll feel happier at the end of it.)

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This is what my puffs looked like after baking but before decorating. I used a half recipe of choux paste from the Joy of Cooking. As this was my first time making choux paste (I know!), I had a bit of trouble piping it out evenly and had to guess at how big to make the shapes. Fortunately I found that going over it with a damp finger to smooth everything out fixed most of the problems, and I was able to reshape some of the ears. Still...no, these do not look like Totoros much.

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And here is what happens when you don't read the directions properly and you put the features on BEFORE dusting with green tea powder and powdered sugar. Whoops! Well, let's move on from that, shall we, and talk about filling. I made a small batch of pastry cream and flavored half with vanilla and the other half with about a teaspoon of green tea powder. Actually that turned out to be too much green tea (for only about half a cup of custard), but flavor as you wish! It did ooze out of the cracks of some of my puffs, making some ZombieTotoros.

Totoro, being eaten

Someone said to me that they wouldn't be able to eat such cute puffs. That's why there are 10 more living in my freezer, startling me every time I open the freezer door...

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Easiest Apple Tartlet

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Seriously--the easiest, ever!

Step 1: Thaw frozen puff pastry sheet (bought mine at Trader Joe's, because they have all butter pastry sheets).
Step 2: Peel, core, and halve an apple. Cut each half into quarters.
Step 3: Cut 2 4" circles out of the puff pastry sheet. Arrange 4 quarters of apple on each.
Step 4: Dot with a bit of butter, a sprinkle of brown sugar, and some cinnamon if you are so inclined. I was not, mainly because I couldn't find the cinnamon.
Step 5: Bake in a 375 oven until the apples are tender and pastry is risen and browned.

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Mine could have used another 5 minutes in the oven, but they just smelled so freaking good. And as long as you keep some puff pastry in your freezer, you can whip this up pretty much anytime, in under 30 minutes.

Next time, I'll try a drizzle of maple syrup on top before baking.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Saturday at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden

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We had our first really warm day yesterday (79!) and it seemed like everyone was outside taking advantage of the nice day. Well, that makes sense because tomorrow it is supposed to be back down to 40 again. Sigh. Darn it, spring--how about some consistency?!

Anyhow, we went to the Brooklyn Botanical Garden for a little cherry blossom viewing. The official festival weekend isn't until the first weekend in May and the cherries here are definitely not at full bloom, but there were some trees that were really spectacular looking. I was sort of surprised by how long the line to get in was, but we were able to skip all that and go right in, thanks to corporate membership (well, there has to be *some* perk to my job!). Anyway, as usual I neglected to write down the names of the flowers, so just enjoy their prettiness (although if you happen to know what species they are, please drop me a comment!).

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It was like a ceiling of flowers. So nice.

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I think this is some kind of tulip, but I just liked the pattern--it reminds me of lizard skin.

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My favorite, the tulip walk. Only a few sections were blooming, but in a few weeks it'll be one giant mass of tulips of all kinds. Yay!

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They also have a nice collection of bonsais; this is my favorite, in the driftwood style. (I only know that because of their very helpful signs.)

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A strange looking cactus!



And so this is not a totally food-less post, after we were done sniffing various flowers (and keeping well clear of the cactus spines), we went over to Chinatown to have enormous bowls of pho from my new favorite pho place.

Pho at Pho Grand

I'll write up a proper post on Pho Grand sometime soon (like, when I can get better photos) but their soup is far and away the best I've tried in Chinatown. Plus, the staff there are super friendly...now if they would only change their music.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Lemon-Almond Cupcakes (or, How I Sabotaged My Gym Class)

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Aren't sugar stars cheerful?

I've been taking a weekly functional training class at the gym with a couple of my friends for a while now, and we love our trainer for many reasons, not least of which is that he likes to dance and plays us cheese-tastic music (this past week we were subjected to Color Me Badd, of all things!). Anyway, it was his birthday and, although I know it sounds extremely counterproductive, we had to bring some kind of treat to class.

This ended up being a fridge-clearing kind of cupcake. I needed a recipe that would use up some buttermilk (leftover from the hot cross buns) and some of my huge stash of ground almonds (apparently I went on a buying binge at the Baker's Catalogue right around Christmas). I had initially thought of making an orange-almond cake, but...we had none, and I was feeling too lazy to go out and buy some. So, lemon almond buttermilk cake it was, thanks to epicurious.com!

Lemon-almond cupcakes


The original recipe finishes the cupcakes with a soaking of lemon syrup. I opted for a lemon glaze instead so it would look more festive. And you know...at least we probably worked off some of the calories!

Lemon-Almond Cupcakes
adapted from epicurious.com
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 stick + 2 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
3 large eggs
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 cup ground almonds
1 tablespoon grated lemon peel
2/3 cup confectioner's sugar, sifted
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350 F. Line 2 muffin pans with paper liners (I got 20 cupcakes out of this recipe.) Whisk the flour, salt, and baking soda together in a medium bowl. Set aside. Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes with an electric mixer. Beat the eggs in, one at a time, making sure each is incorporated before adding the next. Add the flour mixture in 3 additions, alternately with the buttermilk in 2 additions (so, flour-buttermilk-flour-buttermilk-flour). With the mixer on low speed, beat in the almonds and lemon peel. Fill the prepared muffin pans with the batter, which will be fairly thick; don't overfill, you should be aiming for somewhere between half and 2/3 full. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the cakes are risen, nicely browned, and a skewer inserted in the center of a cake comes out clean.

If you want to go with the lemon syrup instead of the glaze, combine the juice of two lemons with 1/3 cup of sugar and stir until dissolved. As soon as the cakes come out of the oven, poke them thoroughly with a skewer and spoon the syrup slowly over the top.

If you are going to go my route and go with the glaze, place the sifted confectioner's sugar in a small bowl and add lemon juice, a tablespoon at a time until the desired consistency is reached. You shouldn't need more than 2 tablespoons, but if you thin it out too much, just add a bit more sugar. Spoon over the cupcakes when they are cool. Decorate with sprinkles as desired.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Hot Cross Buns!

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I am just about to die of shock that I am making a timely post. After all, according to Wikipedia, hot cross buns are traditionally eaten on Good Friday. Woohoo, I'm on time! Now, I don't really celebrate Easter but I can totally get behind any holiday's food traditions. I don't remember making hot cross buns as a kid, but I think we did buy some at the grocer occasionally. But actually I don't remember eating them until college, when one of my dormmates' parents sent her some in the mail, and even then, the only really memorable thing about them was how intensely sweet and sticky the icing crosses were. Tooth-achingly sweet! So when it came time to looking for a recipe, I focused mostly on the more traditional, British style recipes which contained a lot less sugar and had baked on crosses of a flour/water mixture. The one I came up with is cobbled together from a bunch of different sources, including the Joy of Cooking and epicurious.com.

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Please excuse the terrible lighting in my kitchen. I have fiddled and fiddled with the settings on my camera, and this is about as good as it gets. I find kneading dough to be very soothing so I thought this was pretty easy to make; the most time of course goes into waiting for the dough to rise. After the buns have risen for the second time, you pipe on the crosses (my mixture was a bit loose and kept running off the top of the buns) and then consign them to the oven.

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Post-baking, the buns are glazed twice with honey. The buns themselves are certainly not sweet (except for the fruit) so the glaze adds just a hint. I wish I had been a bit more heavy handed with the spices, but overall, not bad! They are best fresh out of the oven, but the slight staleness of the buns is easily fixed with some toasting and copious application of butter. In fact, I think I will go have another one right now....

Hot Cross Buns
Buns
2 1/4 tsp instant yeast
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup water
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 large egg, slightly beaten
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp nutmeg (preferably freshly grated)
1/4 cup butter, room temperature, in tablespoons
1 cup mixed raisins and dried cranberries, roughly chopped

Crosses
1/2 cup flour
2 tbsp sugar
1/3 cup water

Glaze
1/4 cup water
2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp sugar

In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients for the dough, except for the fruit. Mix either with a stand mixer or your hands until it comes together in a rough ball of dough. Turn out and knead on a floured surface until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Knead in the fruit, taking care to distribute it evenly. Place in a lightly greased bowl, cover, and let rise until doubled (approximately 2 hours).

Turn dough out onto a floured surface, deflate gently, and form into 16 round buns. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment, about an inch apart. Snip a cross into the top of each bun with scissors. Cover, and let rise again, until the buns are 1.5 times larger (about an hour). Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine the cross ingredients and stir until smooth. Place in a plastic baggie, and cut a tiny bit of the corner off. Pipe crosses (following the snip marks in your buns) on each bun. Bake until golden brown and firm, about 30 minutes.

In the meantime, combine water, sugar, and honey in a cup. Microwave on high for a minute, then stir. If the honey and sugar aren't melted yet, give it another minute. Stir until smooth. As soon as the buns come out of the oven, brush each with glaze. If you can wait, let stand until warm, and the glaze has set a bit. Otherwise, eat immediately and lick your fingers clean!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Cottage Cheese Pufflets

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Have I mentioned that I love Dorie Greenspan? Oh, I have? And so has everyone else in the world? Oh well, one more time won't hurt. My latest project from her fabulous Baking book is the Cottage Cheese Pufflets. From googling I found that some people had had issues with the dough being too soft, but I found it to be fairly easy to handle once it had been chilled. (You can also find the recipe online so I won't reproduce it here; besides, you NEED a copy of this book.)

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The dough is super quick to whip up in a food processor; then it's off to the fridge for a couple of hours (during which time you can eat the leftover cottage cheese and remind yourself that cottage cheese is actually kind of tasty). Shaping is also easy, and if you find assembly line work soothing like I do, pretty relaxing! I used 2" round cutters which gave me pufflets that were exactly one bite large and filled them with raspberry jam.

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Moisten the edges, fold over, and seal! I'm only showing you this picture to prove that I did in fact actually seal my pufflets, because after baking....

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...this is what I got. I don't know why I didn't expect it (they are called PUFFlets, right?) but I really didn't think they would puff up this much! It's almost like puff pastry (which gives me all kinds of ideas for using this dough).

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These are best eaten the day they are made, but that should be no problem because they are totally addictive. And since this one looks like a mouth...you better eat it before it eats you!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Breaktime in DC

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Orang utans at the National Zoo

No, I haven't abandoned this blog again; we just got back from spending a few days visiting friends in Washington DC. I love road trips! The last one we took was to South Carolina, so driving to DC seemed like a piece of cake. We stayed at the Normandy Hotel, which was very reasonably priced and kind of swanky (rainfall shower!)--I had only two gripes, one of which is that they have the tiniest garage with the tiniest parking spaces ever. I had to be guided into the spot and it took like 7 tries. My other gripe is that, although the room came with one of those fancy Nespresso Cube coffeemakers, they only provided one coffee pod at a time. Very odd, considering that there were two of us. Anyway, minor gripes.

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Turtles sunbathing

In going through my photos, it seems like we did nothing but go to the fantastic (and free) National Zoo. Well, I guess that's not entirely inaccurate! But what kind of a food blogger am I that I didn't take a single picture of any of the food we ate? Well, nevermind. I can still TALK about the food, right? Although we were thwarted in our attempts to go get a cupcake at Cakelove, we did have a very nice meal at The Heights (right by the Columbia Heights Metro station) where I discovered one of the Greatest Things Ever--pineapple infused vodka. Guess what I'll be doing in the near future? My other favorite place was Brickskeller, where they claim to stock over 1000 kinds of beer. Their beer list is a bit overwhelming, so I went with my usual dorky instinct and picked a Monty Python Holy Grail Ale ("Tempered over burning witches"!). A pretty ordinary beer, but the label was fun.

In conclusion, here is one more zoo photo, although you can see the rest of the set here. Next time we go, I will endeavor to remember to document the food. Okay, maybe the food the animals are eating...

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