There are two kinds of people in the world: chocolate dessert people and fruit dessert people. (People who don’t like dessert: not people.) I used to place myself firmly in the former camp, and freely admit to being a devout chocophile. But I don’t often get a chance to bake with it, since there always seems to be some pesky fruit (or vegetable, as the case may be) to use up, or take advantage of before the season ends. And though I nibble on chocolate almost every day, I can’t even recall the last time I ordered a chocolate dessert at a restaurant.
So the other night I thought to myself, aha! I’ll bake something chocolaty. Perhaps something classic, like brownies or oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. But as I opened the fridge to pull out the butter, a jar of butternut squash puree stared back at me.
After much deliberating, I came up with this coffee cake. The texture is moist and rich, and the chocolate really satisfies (but feel free to increase the chocolate factor if you like.) The brown butter glaze came out surprisingly well, and even a powdered sugar-avoider like myself couldn’t stop licking it off of spoons, spatulas and whatever other utensil I found handy (ahem – fingers). I did find myself missing the tang of cream cheese in this cake, so next time I plan to cool the vanilla-infused brown butter and whip it into a cream cheese frosting.
My friend and fellow dancer, Mike, who is about ten years my elder, blurted out the other day, ‘Will you be my grandma?!’ While that may be physically impossible, this cake did strike me as a rather grandmotherly thing to make. Not by my grandmothers, who were too busy cooking brisket, blintzes and rugelach, but perhaps someone’s.
I miss you, Grandmas!
Brown Butter-Glazed Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Coffeecake
Makes one 9″ cake, 8 – 12 servings
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
3/4 cup plain, whole milk yogurt (or try buttermilk, sour cream or creme fraiche)
1 cup winter squash puree
2 cups (8 oz.) cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon salt
a few turns black pepper
1 cup (5 oz.) dark chocolate chips or chopped bittersweet chocolate
1/2 cup pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped, for the topping
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat it to 350º. Lightly grease a 9″ cake pan and line it with a round of parchment paper (or use an unlined springform pan).
Combine the butter and sugar in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, and beat on medium speed until fluffy and light, a few minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating to combine after each and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
Meanwhile, stir together the yogurt and squash in a measuring cup and sift the dries into a medium bowl. Alternate adding the dries and yogurt mixture to the butter mixture, beginning and ending with the dries, in 3 additions. Mix on low until just combined after each addition, then mix in the chocolate pieces.
Spread into the pan and bake until a tester inserted comes out mostly clean (a few crumbs are ok), 45 minutes or so. Let cool. Invert onto a plate, remove the parchment, then flip onto another plate so it’s right side up. Spread with the glaze and sprinkle with pecans.
3 tablespoons butter
1/4 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
1-3 teaspoons water or milk
Combine the butter and vanilla pod and scrapings in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat, swirling occasionally, until it turns golden and smells nutty. Combine with the powdered sugar in a bowl, and whisk in enough water to make a pourable glaze (if the mixture ‘breaks’, don’t despair – keep whisking in small amounts of water or milk until it comes back together.)
If you think the food world is free from the chains of fashion, you probably live under a rock. Take chocolate. Having been the only thing available in this country for so many years, overly sweetened milk chocolate fell out of fashion when folks realized the wonders of bittersweet. Ever darker chocolates began appearing, and anyone who was anyone spoke authoritatively on the matter of darker equalling better. But milk chocolate (and even white chocolate) has been making a steady comeback with chocolatiers such as Charles, Valrhona, Recchiuti and Scharffenberger marketing dark, fruity bars with over 40% cocoa solids. Now when someone tells me disdainfully, ‘I don’t like milk chocolate; too sweet,’ I just shake my head mournfully at their naivete.
The same goes for pizza. Since cheap, American chains have marketed bready pies for so many years, the conoscenti began spurning them for Italian-style, wafer-thin crusts. Chic restaurants flaunting ever thinner dough have popped up everywhere, from Flour + Water in the city to Pizzaiolo in the East Bay. On my walk home from work down Valencia Street, I am fortunate (or unfortunate, depending) to pass by two stellar pizzerias that taunt me daily with wafts of wood fired bread and tomato sauce drifting into my tired and hungry nostrils. The first, Pauline’s, makes the skinny kind (bonus points for using local, seasonal ingredients!) The second, Little Star, which from the outside looks like a dingy dive bar, makes the deep dish variety.
Eating Little Star pizza was a revelation, much like my first nibble of Scharffenberger’s milk chocolate several years ago, in which I realized that thick crusts can be not only good, but ecstatic.
If you have yet to experience the virtues of deep dish pizza and are skeptical, consider these startling facts. Deep dish pizza is:
-crispy on the outside
-chewy on the inside
-moist with sauce and melty cheese
-rich and flavorful with olive oil
-really friggin’ good
Inspired by Little Star’s wheaty masterpieces (and a jar of tomato sauce left over from last week’s eggplant parmesean), I tried my hand at sourdough deep dish pizza. I used Cook’s recipe as a starting point, tweaking the ingredients as necessary. The resulting pizza surpassed my expectations with its flavorful, springy dough crisped in a generous amount of olive oil, accented by gooey, saucy cheese and bites of bitter olives, tangy chevre and fresh basil.
Once you taste it, you will no longer associate this caliber deep dish pizza with the cheap stuff you begged your parents to buy you (with pineapple and olives on top – yes, I was a weird one) when you were a kid. Promise. If you still turn your nose up at thick crust pizzas, you have my deepest sympathy.
Sourdough Deep Dish Pizza
Makes two 10″ pies; about 6 servings
Since this dough contains yeast, your starter doesn’t need to be perfectly lively. You can use starter that hasn’t been fed in a while, or starter that you’re just beginning to build up. Just make sure it smells and tastes pleasant.
You can bake two 10″ pies, or one 14 incher if you have a 14″ pan (who has that?) I used a 10″ ceramic tart pan, but a pie or cake pan would work, too. The dough keeps well in the fridge for up to a week, or in the freezer for a month or two, if you want to make your pizzas in increments.
Total cooking time: 2 1/2 hours
cook the tater and make the dough: 30 minutes
first rise: 1 hour
second rise: 30 minutes
baking: 30 minutes
1 medium russet potato (about 9 oz.)
8 oz. (about 1 cup) liquid sourdough starter
2 3/4 cups all purpose flour, plus more as needed (some or all of this can be whole wheat)
2/3 cup lukewarm water
1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast (or 2 teaspoons active dry, or 1 tablespoon fresh)
1 3/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
Peel and quarter the taters, put in a pot and cover with water. Boil until tender but not falling apart, 10 minutes or so. Drain and let cool until they are handleable, then put through a ricer if you are cool enough to have one (I’m not) or grate on the large holes of a box grater.
Combine all the ingredients together in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook (or in a big bowl with a wooden spoon, you stud!) Mix on low until combined, then increase the speed to medium-low and knead for 5 minutes or so until smooth and elastic, adding more flour as necessary until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl, and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead by hand for a minute or two to adjust the consistency. The dough should be soft and moist, but not overly sticky. Place in a lightly oiled bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap (or slide into a clean trash bag.) Let rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups or so tomato sauce (bought, or homemade)
8 – 12 oz. mozzarella, sliced
2 – 4 oz. goat cheese
1/3 cup oil cured olives, pitted and halved
a few basil leaves, sliced
Position an oven rack in the lowest and highest positions. Place a baking stone or (heavy baking sheet) on the bottom rack. Preheat the oven to 500º.
Coat the bottoms of two 10″ cake or pie pans with 2 tablespoons olive oil each. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and divide in half. Pat each into 9″ rounds. Cover with plastic and let rest 10 minutes, then place in the pans and press them up the sides to make a 1″ lip. (Mine wouldn’t stay up the sides, but still turned out fine.) Cover with plastic and let rise until doubled, about 1/2 hour.
Remove the plastic and prick the crusts all over with a fork. Place in the oven on the stone and reduce the oven temperature to 425º. Bake 5 – 10 minutes, until lightly golden. Remove the pans and divide the toppings between the pies: sauce, mozzarella, then olives and goat cheese. Return to the stone and bake for 10 minutes more to melt the cheese. Put the pans on the upper rack and bake about 5 more minutes, til the cheese is brown and bubbly. Remove the pans, sprinkle with the basil, and let cool a few minutes, then use a wide metal spatula to slip them onto a board. Cut into slices.
Last night, my modern dance group, Gnosis, held our second annual show Dance for Another Day to help fund Lupus research. Highlights included cowboys in rhinestone-studded chaps, dancing dolls, pop n’ locks, ochos, singing into shoes, and yummy treats courtesy of the Bojon Gourmet, vended by my lovely sister, niece, and sister in spirit, Isaac the Girl. Apologies to anyone who did not get to sample the goods I made for the pre-show bakesale; here are some photos to make you drool/jealous. Recipes coming soon!
Gluten-free espresso brownies with salted butter caramel
My favorite kinds of breakfasts are ones that also double as dessert. Though commonly eaten as an after dinner treat in Latin America, an extremely talented cook named Nancy makes arroz con leche every morning at the band camp that the doc and I attend every summer. There’s nothing better than a bowl warm, sweet, creamy rice infused with cinnamon and dotted with plump raisins on a foggy, cold morning under the redwoods when you’ve been up dancing til 4 am the night before.
Although I woke up indoors this morning, to a crisp, sunny dawn (ok, it was 10:30), after going to bed at midnight after watching the Colbert Report on Hulu, arroz con leche sounded like just the ticket.
Sweetened condensed milk, commonly called for in arroz con leche, scares me. Why would I use scary, sticky, canned dairy when I can get organic, Strauss creamery milk that comes in a gorgeous glass bottle, and this unrefined hippie sugar I found at Rainbow?
‘Herbally purified,’ it claims to be… hmmmm, I wonder what herb they could be talking about???
Milk shouldn’t be shelf stable – that’s just wrong. It should be kept in a refrigerator, like God intended. Canned coconut milk, on the other hand, that’s ok by me. I like putting coconut milk in just about everything. Coconut milk makes me think of cardamom, so I decided to add that to my arroz this morning, along with some vanilla bean. Pretty fantastic, if you ask me. Jay scarfed it down and went back for seconds; and he doesn’t even like rice pudding. So there you have it.
Arroz con Leche with Coconut Milk, Cardamom and Vanilla
Makes 4 servings
Time: about 1 hour
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup white Jasmine or Basmati rice, rinsed briefly in a strainer
3″ cinnamon stick
5 green cardamom pods, lightly crushed
14 oz. can coconut milk
1 cup whole milk
1 cup water (or additional milk)
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup sugar or sweetener of your choice
1/3 cup raisins or currants
Heat the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the rice, cinnamon stick and cardamom pods and cook, stirring, until fragrant, 1 – 2 minutes. Add the milks, water, vanilla bean pod and scrapings and salt. Bring to a gentle simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring every few minutes, until the rice is very tender and the liquid has thickened somewhat, 20 – 30 minutes.
Add the sugar and raisins. Cook 5 – 10 minutes more, stirring occasionally, until thickened to your liking. Let stand off the heat for 10 minutes before serving. It will continue to thicken as it sits, so thin with a little milk if you like.
This rice pudding is best served slightly warm. Store in the fridge for up to several days.
Oh winter squash and cheese, will I ever get tired of combining you?
This morning, I set out to make gougeres, heavenly little puffs of pate a choux with loads of gruyere cheese folded in. Pate a choux, like most things with fancy French names, is deceptively easy to make. (Take a brunoise, for instance. Sounds tricksy, doesn’t it? Well it just means ‘a fine dice.’ Thanks, Frenchies, for constantly making us feel inadequate.)
Here in SF, gougeres seem to be the new scone, popping up at chic coffee shops, like Coffee Bar and Tartine, as a nourishing, portable, savory treat for any time of day. They are rather like the scone’s refined, city-dwelling cousin; lighter, crispier and with a name that makes you salivate just pronouncing it.
For my first trial, I added small cubes of roasted squash and some crumbles of goat cheese to the finished batter, but it made the dough overly moist and heavy. The goat cheese dried out in the oven and the dough tasted overly salty. That didn’t stop Jay from making them all disappear by the time I got home from work, though. For trial 2, I (sob!) omitted the goat cheese and added the squash with the other wet ingredients at the beginning, cooking off some of its liquid with the flour. These gougeres baked up light, tender and crisp. I reduced the salt by half, and found the balance of flavors to be just right.
These addictive little puffs would make an elegant and luxurious start to a fall cocktail party, or a bojon brunch. Try serving them with pomegranate mimosas or a simple glass of prosecco.
Other directions you could go with this recipe would be:
-smoked paprika or chipotle
-omit the gruyere topping, and shove some crumbles of blue cheese and a few toasted walnut pieces into the center of each unbaked gougere
If you live with a gougere hog, or are baking for guests, you might consider doubling this recipe as there never seem to be quite enough of these to go around. The batter can be made a day or two ahead and scooped just before baking, or you can scoop the dough onto a parchmented sheet pan, freeze, then save the frozen dough blobs in a ziploc baggie for instant gougere gratification whenever you please.
Winter Squash and Sage Gougeres
Makes 20 1 1/2″ puffs
Time: about 1 hour
1/2 cup whole milk
1/3 cup mashed roasted winter squash (such as butternut)
1/4 cup (2 oz.) unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 large eggs
1 – 2 tablespoons minced fresh sage
4 oz. grated gruyere, divided
Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 425º. Line a 12×18″ baking sheet with parchment paper and place on top of another baking sheet (these tend to over-brown on their bottoms.)
Combine the milk, squash, butter, and salt in a medium saucepan over medium high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Dump in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture forms a ball and a film forms on the bottom of the pan, a few minutes.
Dump the mixture in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle. Beat on medium speed for a minute or so to release some heat, then add the eggs one at a time, beating until combined and smooth after each addition. Add in the sage and three quarters of the cheese, beating to combine. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle and fold a few times to make sure the mixture is homogenous.
Using a #40 spring-loaded ice cream scoop (or a piping bag fitted with a #8 plain tip, or the old spoon-and-finger method) scoop out 20 balls of the mixture and place them, 4×5, on the parchmented pan.
Bake until puffed and golden, about 25 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350º and bake for an additional 10 minutes or so, to dry out the centers slightly. (If underbaked, the gougeres will deflate as they cool.)
These are best served warm from the oven, but will keep for a couple days at room temp. You can re-toast them before enjoying, if you like.
When you think of Italians, it is likely that several characteristics come to mind. Sylish, perhaps. Romantic, sophisticated, passionate. Unless you’ve spent a fair amount of time with them, I doubt you associate with them the words picky, stubborn or dogmatic.
Prepare to be disillusioned.
Italians don’t like eating things with too many flavors going on. They like simple, familiar, traditional dishes. Mention the words pizza, pesto and shrimp together in a single culinary creation and you will have earned yourself one condescending, Italian sneer. (I know this from firsthand experience.)
The Italian phrase which sums up this gastronomical hegemony is ‘mettere un po’ di tutto,’ or ‘to put in a little of everything.’ While here in gli Stati Uniti chefs earn praise and notoriety for dreaming up creative concoctions, an Italian would shrink away, horrified, from foods we consider basic or mundane. Eggs for breakfast: disgustose. Barbequed chicken pizza: ma, dai! Salad dressing: Madonna, che paura! Mettere un po’ di tutto is not a good thing to an Italian. In fact, it is a very bad thing. If you proffer a dish to an Italian and they ask what’s in it (notice the look of suspicion) and if, after you’ve told them, they smile sardonically, cock an eyebrow, give little nod and say, ‘Ah, hai messo un po’ di tutto!’ you can bet you will be dining alone.
Of all the things Italians hold sacred, pasta, and of course someone’s mamma, are probably the two most inflammatory topics you could pick if looking to be cursed and gesticulated at in Italiano. Forget to salt your pasta water? Inexcusable. Too much sauce? You may as well have doused it in gelato by the look of horror you will receive. And Santa Maria forbid you use the wrong shape of pasta. Everyone knows that pasta alla carbonara gets bucatini while pasta in brodo needs, nay, demands orecchiette. Open any Italian’s cupboard and you will find at the very least a dozen different blue boxes containing varying shapes and sizes of pasta; not just because they eat a lot of it, they will tell you matter-of-factly, but because it is essential to have a variety of shapes at the ready at all times. Since an Italian will never reheat pasta the next day, every Italian owns a little scale on which the pasta is weighed before cooking. Go out for chinese with a few Italians and they will each order two courses: a pasta dish and a meat dish. They will eat their pasta first, and the meat second. So while the Mafia may have invented ‘family business,’ Italians don’t do ‘family style;’ at least, not in Chinese.
This mac and cheese makes a perfect one dish meal, another thing that Italians don’t do, as it contains the four basic food groups: veggies, grains, dairy and bacon. I clipped the original recipe from an old Martha Stewart, in an article on lightening up traditionally rich dishes. It did not call for bacon, rather for nonfat milk and ricotta cheese. I did away with those immediately in favor of whole milk and aged cheddar, but appreciated the basic theory of the dish. The squash gets cooked and mashed into the milk, thickening into a sauce and eliminating the need to make a roux. I did reduce the amount of pasta called for, and add in some roasted chunks of squash, ribbons of collard greens, and caramelized onions. (You may think I did this for health reasons, but when I asked my dieting housemate, Luisa, why she didn’t add any veggies to her risotto bianco she frowningly replied, ‘troppo pesante,’ or ‘too heavy.’ The phrase was accompanied by a gesture similar to that used to connote the male reproductive center. So there you go.)And, because it makes everything better, crisp lardons of bacon. (How could you not love something called ‘lardons?’)
Baked Mac and Cheese
with Roasted Squash, Collard Greens, Bacon and Sage
Makes one 9x13x2″ casserole, 8ish main-course servings
1 medium winter squash, such as butternut, about 2 lbs, sliced lengthwise
6-8 strips of bacon, such as Niman Ranch cured applewood smoked
3 medium red onions (10 oz.), sliced thinly
1 cup breadcrumbs from 1-2 slices crusty boule
2 1/2 cups whole milk
8 oz. grated cheese, such as extra sharp white cheddar, gruyere or goat gouda
1 oz. grated parmesean
2 tablespoons minced fresh sage leaves
10 oz. penne
1 bunch collard greens, stems removed, leaves halved lengthwise and sliced into 1/2″ ribbons
Preheat the oven to 400º.
Place the squash halves cut side down on a lightly oiled sheet pan and roast until soft and collapsed in places, about 1 hour. Remove and let cool enough to handle. Scoop out and discard the strings and seeds, and remove the flesh from the skin. Set 1 cup of flesh aside, and chop the rest into approximately 1″ chunks. You should have about 2 cups.
Reduce the oven temperature to 350º.
Fry the bacon in a skillet over medium heat until browned and crispy, turning once or twice. Remove to a paper towel to drain, then slice into 1″ squares, or lardons.
Pour off all but a tablespoon or two of the rendered fat. Saute the onions over medium-low heat until golden, soft and caramelized, about 20 minutes, stirring and scraping the pan with a metal spatula. Remove the onions to a large bowl and set aside.
Add another tablespoon of the fat to the pan, and fry the breadcrumbs, with a few pinches of salt, until crisp. Scrape out of the pan and set aside.
Place the 1 cup of squash in the skillet with the milk and simmer for a few minutes, then mash or puree smooth. Season with 3/4 teaspoon salt.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Add the collards and cook until crisp-tender, a few minutes. Fish out with tongs or a slotted spoon or skimmer, cool enough to squeeze out excess moisture, and add to the the bowl with the onions. Dump in the penne and cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Strain and toss with the onions and collards.
Add the squash chunks, milk mixture, cheeses, sage and bacon and toss to combine. Taste and add more salt or what have you if necessary.
Brush a 9x13x2″ casserole with some of the you-know-what fat. Spread the pasta in the pan and scatter the breadcrumbs evenly over.
Bake at 350º until bubbling and golden, about 30 minutes.