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Monday, August 19, 2019

Grilled Pineapple Tofu Cheesecake — a vegan dessert for everyone!

Seasonal Recipe of the Week
I have been working on some great new recipes I want to share. There are some great natural substitutes on the market which enable me to do yummy baking for the vegans in our lives. In particular, egg substitutes, which make baking possible. I also love to use cashews soaked in water overnight to make an amazing cream, add a little sriracha and you have a killer pasta sauce — BAM! But I digress, back to baking. This recipe combines silken tofu, cashew cream, banana, coconut oil, and pineapple to make a super delicious pie, even your carnivore eaters will love. Gotta soak those cashews overnight, so plan ahead! Makes one 8-inch cake.

Ingredients for crust
1 1/4 cup finely ground graham cracker (or any vegan cookies)
3 tablespoons sugar
4 tablespoons melted coconut oil
2 tablespoons almond milk

Ingredients for filling
1/2 cup raw cashews, soaked in water overnight
1/2 cup mashed ripe banana
14 ounces silken tofu, drained
2 tablespoons coconut oil, room temperature
2/3 cups sugar
4 teaspoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
4 tablespoons fresh pineapple juice
Grated zest of 1 lime

Grilled pineapple slices for garnish
2 tablespoons toasted coconut for garnish

Preheat oven to 350° and lightly spray an 8-inch springform pan with nonstick cooking spray.

To make the cookie crust, place the cookies in your food processor and pulse until you get fine crumbs. In a medium mixing bowl, stir together the cookie crumbs and sugar. Drizzle in the melted coconut oil and mix well to ensure the crumbs are moist. Pour in the almond milk and stir again to combine all ingredients. You might need to use your hands to blend the mixture to get a crumbly dough. Pour the crust mixture into the springform pan and press very firmly into the sides of the pan first and pat into the bottom. Bake for 10 minutes until firm. Remove from oven and place and let the crust cool completely before filling.

To make the filling, drain the soaked cashews and tofu. Add the cashews, mashed banana, tofu, coconut oil, sugar, cornstarch, sea salt, pineapple juice and lime zest to a blender and whizz until completely smooth and there aren't any small bit of cashew. Pour the batter over the crust and tap it lightly on the counter to get rid of any large air bubbles. Bake the cheesecake about 50 minutes, until the edges are golden and the top is lightly puffed and still looks a bit wet. Cool cake completely before adding the topping.

To decorate, cut thin rounds of fresh pineapple, remove center rind with small ring cutter. Grill in a very hot dry pan to get blackened marks. Let cool, then place rings on top of cake. Sprinkle with toasted coconut. Refrigerate cake overnight for best results.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Flan — why mess with the classics?

One of my favorite desserts is a simple flan (or crème caramel, if you're French). Yes, you can alter the flavorings, add some citrus, or some herbs (thyme, lavender, lemon verbena, etc.) but how about just leaving it alone and making it perfectly? (Okay, maybe add an edible flower on top.) You can't beat that! This makes 6 servings

1 3/4 cups heavy cream
1 cup full-fat milk
pinch salt
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise with seeds scraped out and saved
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
3 large eggs
2 large yolks
7 Tablespoons sugar

Preheat oven to 350 and position rack in the center of the oven. Combine cream, milk and salt in a medium-size sauce pan. Add the vanilla seeds and the scraped vanilla bean pod. Bring to a simmer over medium heat then shut off and let steep for 30 minutes. Remove the vanilla pod.

Meanwhile, combine 1 cup sugar and the water in a small sauce pan and cook until sugar liquifies and turns a deep amber color. Be careful, if it gets too dark it gets real bitter, which nobody wants! Carefully pour about a tablespoon of this hot caramel into the bottoms of six 3/4-cup ramekins and swirl around to cover bottom. Set ramekins into a large roasting pan (13 × 9 × 2 inches).

Whisk eggs, egg yolks, and 7 tablespoons of sugar in a medium bowl until blended. Gradually and gently, whisk cream into egg mixture. Strain the egg mixture into a large measuring cup and carefully divide mixture among the ramekins. Open the oven door, pull the rack partially out to make the filling process easier. Now add very hot water into the pan, until the water level is halfway up the ramekins. Be careful not the splash water into the ramekins! Then slowly push the pan onto the rack then into the center of the oven.

Bake until centers are set and are jiggly, about 40 minutes. Remove from water bath and let cool, then refrigerate covered overnight.

To serve, run a small sharp knife around the edge, cover with a plate, give a little shake and turn over. If all is right with the world the flan will fall out onto the plate covered with a nice pool of caramel. And you will be a superstar.


Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Lemon Cake — a blast from my past!

When I was young and had lots of free time, I developed my love of baking and cooking by working with my father in the kitchen. He was an amazing and intuitive cook and could remember flavors like some people remember places. But he did not like the feel of flour and never really got into baking — just eating — so that's when I started doing my own research and development. Clipping recipes from the NY Times, buying cookbooks and just making stuff up. This is also when I started my yearly tradition of making a small gift cookbook for my friends. I did it for many years, some years producing over 70 copies. This was when I was at the mercy of Kinkos! Oh the hours spent waiting and collating. Unfortunately, my busy schedule has prevented me from making these gift books in the past few years, but who knows? maybe this year I will get back to business.

This recipe for a simple — and rather delicious — lemon cake is from my first cookbook home-published in 1975 called Stacy's Occasional Eats which had 10 recipes typed by my mother Bernice and a silk screened cover. I think you can never go wrong with a lemon cake and everything you need to make it is probably in your kitchen right now! So give it a go, and remember the lemon can be exchanged for lime or orange or tangerine with delicious results!

1 cup sugar
6 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1 tablespoon lemon zest
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups AP flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup sugar
juice of 1 lemon

Preheat oven to 325. Grease a 9 × 5 × 3-inch loaf pan. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar till fluffy. Mix in eggs one at a time. In separate bowl, sift flour, baking powder, and salt. Add alternately to sugar butter mixture with milk beginning and ending with flour. Scrape down sides of bowl throughout the mixing process. Pour into loaf pan and smooth out top. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until toothpick inserted in cake comes out clean and top is golden brown.

While cake rests, in small saucepan combine the remaining 1/4 cup sugar with the lemon juice and cook till sugar dissolves. Poke a number of toothpick holes in the cake and pour mixture slowly on top of the cake till it all soaks in. Let it cool completely in pan, then remove.

That's it, super easy. Whipped cream doesn't hurt!

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Fussy French Macarons

Seasonal Recipe of the Week
I have always heard that making French macarons is very difficult. Four simple ingredients, how complex can it be? Well it turns out to be true! I assumed the reason people failed was that they did not follow the instructions carefully enough. Being a pretty experienced baker who is very good at reading and following a recipe, I decided to give it a go last night. I prepared myself by watching 6 different videos on the "fool proof methods" people use to achieve the proper texture, surface, feet, and flavor we all know and love. Six recipes, six different methods, six times I was annoyed and confused. I decided to try 2 different recipes, one from the Tasty website and one from the ex-con herself, Martha Stewart. One took 2 hours to make (including the resting and drying time) one took 15 minutes to make, same ingredients, different results. In the end I have combined methods from all the recipes I read and created my own method using basically Martha's recipe but not her technique. One of the most important thing is to weigh out the ingredients in grams as it is much more accurate. I had just okay results (as you can see by the photos) but I learned so much each time I failed. I always say to master a new recipe you need to make it at least 3 times so I am going to do it again today and will post an update if it is noticeably better. One factor I need to mention is humidity, which greatly impacts the cooking of meringue which is what these cookies essentially are. Today it is 97% humidity and pouring, so I am factoring that into my potentially crappy results. All the recipe instructions agreed on one thing, after you fill them you have to refrigerate them for at least 24 hours before serving so it's too soon to say if all this fuss was worth it. I will keep you posted.

71 grams Almond flour (I used Trader Joe's)
117 grams confectioners sugar
1 pinch salt
2 large egg whites, room temperature (I used organic)
53 grams granulated sugar

2 drops gel food coloring of your choice
1/4 teaspoon vanilla or other extract or flavoring

Preheat oven to 300 degrees with rack in lower third of oven. Take a piece of parchment the same size as your sheet pan and draw 3/4-inch circles in sharpie 1 inch apart. Turn it over so ink is on bottom and place on sheet pan.

Place almond flour and confectioners sugar in a food processor and pulse around 14 times to make a super fine texture. Pass the mixture through a fine mesh sieve to get out any big pieces. Whisk egg whites in electric mixer with a pinch of salt. Once foamy slowly sprinkle in the granulated sugar and whip till glossy and stiff peaks form. Add flavoring (extracts or flavored oils) and food coloring, if desired, and beat on highest for speed 30 seconds.

Add dry ingredients in three additions carefully folding from bottom over the top then turning the bowl. This will probably take about 40-45 folds. Then you need to press some of the air out of the batter by pushing it against the side of the bowl and turning. You know the batter is correctly mixed when you can let it fall off the spatula and it ribbons enough so you can make a figure eight with the batter which dissapears after 30 seconds. The batter should look like shiny flowing lava.

Transfer batter to pastry bag, remember it's pretty runny so it might come out of the bottom of the bag. My new trick is I fold up the bottom of the bag up and hold it with a bag clip until I am ready to start. Dab some batter (remaining in bowl) onto bottom corners of parchment so it does not lift when piping cookies.

Pipe batter onto rounds from the side so you don't end up with a nipple on the top (one of my mistakes). Tap sheets firmly against counter 2 or 3 times to release air bubbles. Then let sit for 60 minutes till a dull film forms over macaroons and when you touch them your finger does not stick.

Bake 1 sheet at a time, rotating halfway through, until risen and just set, 13 minutes. Let cool on rack. Pipe or spread filling on flat sides of half of cookies; sandwich with remaining half. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 24 hours. I don't know why but will know tomorrow! Below are some photos of my mistakes!

Left to right: rookie mistake, they are too close together; macarons are much too tall and they were piped incorrectly.

Some closing notes: It's very confusing figuring out which recipe and which techniques to trust. I always look for a recipe which comes from a well-known source and one which has been tested and the notes are added to the recipe. Remember weather will always be a factor, if it's crazy hot or crazy dry that affects time of cooking and possibly temperature. And finally I always give myself at least 3 tries to get it right. After that I just go to the movies!