Wednesday, February 24, 2010


We expect a lot from hamantaschen. These triangular jam-filled cookies are baked by Eastern European Jews to celebrate the Purim holiday. In addition to triggering a dose of nostalgia, these cookies are expected to maintain their neat shape and hold back a river of delicious jam, all while showcasing a tender, delicate crumb. This is a lot to ask of any cookie. Hamantaschen seldom live up to the task. Most often (especially when made commercially) they err on the side of structure, holding a beautiful shape but having the dry, chalky mouthfeel of a wad of clay. Alternately, there are tender, pastry-light hamantaschen made with cream cheese doughs, but they unfurl disappointingly in the oven, shrugging off their three corners to settle back into the circle from which they were shaped.

Luckily, it's possible to make hamantaschen that have both a traditional shape and a inviting texture. But it takes a bit of fussing. First off, the dough. If you want a rich and light cream cheese dough (and, trust me, you do), you need to give it a few cold rests. First the dough needs to chill in the refrigerator after you make it, so that the moisture can be absorbed without needing additional flour, and the soft butterfats can firm up. And once you shape the cookies, you want to chill them again, this time in the freezer for at least an hour. When the frozen cookies hit the oven, their icy stiffness will help them to bake and firm before any melty backsliding begins. And then there's the shaping. An egg wash is brushed on the dough, to help glue the mess together. The sides are then folded in -- but you don't want upright 90 degree walls, which can open easily. Instead, you want to ease the sides of your triangle into nice acute angles, encasing the jam so that just the tiniest jewel-like bit is peeping out of the center. A bit of twisting on the overlapping sides doesn't hurt either. Like I said, it's a bit of fuss.

So why go through all the bother? Well, the same reason you cook anything, I suppose. To create something delicious, that connects you to the generations who have made it before, but also transports you on flavor and flakiness alone. These hamantaschen take some attention, and despite your best efforts might still unroll a bit in the oven (I lost 2 in a batch of 16, which seem like acceptable odds to me, especially after a rather flaky-yet-disastrous first pass). But the end result? The best hamantaschen I've ever had.


inspired by several sources, most notably the
Trois Pommes Patisserie, as reprinted in New York Magazine

yields 14-18 cookies, depending on size and thickness

1 stick butter (4 oz), softened to room temperature
4 oz cream cheese, softened to room temperature
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
3 Tbsp sugar
zest of 1/2 orange and 1/2 lemon (optional, but nice)
1 1/4 cup flour
1 egg, beaten with 1 spoonful water, milk or cream (henceforth referred to as the "egg wash")
~1/2 cup jam of your choose (I used the apricot and rosemary plum jams from my larder)
a few spoonfuls granulated sugar

Cream together the butter and cream cheese until well-combined and fluffy. Add the vanilla, salt, sugar, and citrus zest, beating until combined. Add the flour, and mix gently until the dough just comes together (try not to over-mix). Form the dough into a chubby disc, wrap in plastic or waxed paper, and refrigerate for at least an hour (preferably at least two).

When the dough has chilled and relaxed, roll it out onto a lightly-floured surface until it is between 1/8" to 1/4". Cut out circles with a 3" cutter. Place a teaspoon of jam in the center of each circle, and brush the edges with the egg wash. Shape each circle into a triangle, drawing the sides well over the top so that just a bit of the jam is peeking through (an area smaller than a dime) and sealing the edges. If possible, bring one of the edges slightly over the other, rolling it so that the seam is no longer on top. Place the shaped cookies on a plastic- or parchment-coated plate, and place in the freezer for 1 hour. Place the remaining egg wash back in the refrigerator.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees farenheit.

Remove the cookies from the freezer, and place on greased or lined cookie sheets. Brush the top sides of the dough with the egg wash, and sprinkle lightly with the granulated sugar. Bake until they are nicely browned, 20-30 minutes. Let cool on a rack, and enjoy.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Tangy Indian Cauliflower with Braised Tomato

I don't know if it's a result of having moved around a lot, or having suffered through teensy apartment kitchens, but I have little patience for cooking utensils that have only one use. You could clutter your drawer and empty your wallet buying specialized slicers for mangos and avocados and pineapples. But I much prefer sticking with a single knife, thanks. Whenever I'm given such a single-use item, I quietly wait until I can run to the kitchen store and exchange it for something useful. Like cupcake liners. Or chocolate.

A few years back, my sister gave me a set of a half-dozen small pyrex prep bowls. They h
old just a few tablespoons each, and I was all set to exchange them for something that wasn't quite so dollhouse-sized. Except I never got around to it, and one day I ended up using them. And now, of course, I love them. Especially when I'm making Indian food.

The ingredient list for curries, like the one below, can seem a little daunting. And often the cooking happens quick, with ingredients dumped into a hot pan as soon as seeds start popping or vegetables start coloring. Of course, you can pre-measure your spices into standard-sized dishes or saucers if you don't have prep bowls. But I'm totally smitten with their tiny size, especially in our dishwasherless household. In the case of this cauliflower curry, you measure out some whole seasonings and aromatics to hit the hot pan in the beginning, and then some more to follow before you add the vegetables. The tomato (canned works just fine here) braises down to make a thick sauce for t
he cauliflower, coating it with tangy spices. It's simple, relatively quick, and totally delicious.

Tangy Indian Cauliflower with Braised Tomato

adapted from Spicy Cauliflower with Braised Tomato in Lord Krishna's Cuisine: The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking

serves 4-5, depending upon other dishes served

2-3 Tbsp ghee or oil (a high-heat oil like canola, peanut or coconut is good)
1" piece fresh ginger root, cut into thin julienne
1-2 fresh chiles, seeded and cut into thin slivers (or substitute a pinch or two of cayenne, added with the coriander)
1/2 tsp black mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 Tbsp coriander
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 - 1 tsp salt
1 large head cauliflower (about 3 lbs), trimmed, cored, and broken/cut into florets
1 lb tomatoes, fresh or canned, cut into eighths (if large) or quarters (if small/medium)
1 tsp garam masala
2 Tbsp chopped cilantro
1 Tbsp butter (optional)

Heat the oil or ghee in a large pan over a moderately high heat. While it's heating, prep and measure out your ginger, chiles (if using), and mustard and cumin seeds. When the oil is hot but not smoking, add the pre-measured seasonings all at once. Cook until the cumin seeds darken and the mustard seeds pop (you might need to use a lid to keep them from popping all over your stove). This should take less than a minute, depending on the heat.

When the popping has subsided, add the coriander, turmeric and salt. Stir a moment to toast the spices and distribute them, then drop in the cauliflower florets, and stir-fry until they're lightly browned. Stir in the tomatoes. Cover, reduce heat to low, and cook 15-25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the cauliflower is just tender.

When the cauliflower is almost done, uncover the pan and raise the heat back to high. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the remaining liquid is reduced to a thick glaze. Sprinkle with garam masala and cilantro, top with the butter (if desired), and add additional salt if needed. Serve with rice or naan.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Korova Cookies, aka World Peace Cookies (gluten-free)

I don't usually do that much gluten-free baking. But for world peace, I make an exception.

Recently the lovely blog Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef posted something of a road map of the journey you take in gluten-free baking (and gluten-free living). Living gluten-free is about learning the ins and outs of a whole new palette of starches. And it's a hefty palette -- different gluten-free starches have different properties, so if you want something that binds, aerates, flakes, and all that good stuff, you're going to have to combine a variety of ingredients and techniques. I don't have too much experience with the gluten-free pantry pantheon, so when I want to bake for gluten-free friends, I usually turn to tried-and-true recipes, and follow them exactly.

But last week, Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef threw down the gauntlet. Well, the friendly, collaborative sort of gauntlet. After an uncharacteristically spectacular recipe failure, they solicited feedback in developing a gluten-free version of Korova Cookies, also known as World Peace Cookies. Their version turned into a melty mess on the cookie sheet, and so they asked for thoughts, comments and suggestions as to how to come up with a dough that more closely resembled its inspiration.

The cookies in question are a chocolatey-salty version of buttery sablés. These French cookies are so named for their sandy texture, sort of like a crumbly shortbread. In this version, developed by the failsafe Dorie Greenspan, they're given a shot of cocoa powder, some chopped chocolate and a hefty dose of salt, and according to her neighbor they might just be the secret to world peace. Who could say no?

As any gluten-free baker knows, developing a crumbly texture isn't usually much of a problem. I turned to the somewhat nubbly rice flour as the main ingredient, with some tapioca starch and sorghum along too, and a teensy bit of xanthan gum to bind (this ingredient can be found at most health food stores, but can also be easily obtained from any of your gluten-free friends in exchange for the promise of cookies). Gluten-free sablés need a bit of structure to stand up to all that butter, but not at the expense of their crumbly short texture. I turned to egg yolks, removed from their more structurally-solid whites. I also swapped out some of the butter for an ingredient that may seem strange: hard-boiled egg yolks.

I first saw hard-boiled yolks used in a strawberry shortcake recipe last summer, and it turns out that they're not all that uncommon, and are even used in some traditional sablé recipes. They lend a delicious richness, but without the water content and binding properties of raw yolks, or the melting potential of butter. I was aiming to try a few variations, but after a spectacular cookie disaster of my own (more on that later), I was pretty cookied out, and just made the one. But the gluten-free gods seem to have smiled, because it was indeed the one. Chocolatey and salty (in a way that seems to deepen the chocolate flavor), with a delicate texture. World peace to follow? We can only hope.

Korova Cookies (aka World Peace Cookies), gluten-free

adapted from the
World Peace Cookies in Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours, inspired and informed by Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef

yields ~28 cookies

1/2 cup rice flour
1/3 cup sorghum flour
1/3 cup tapioca starch
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp xanthan gum
1 stick butter, softened to room temperature
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp coarse salt (fleur de sel if you've got it, kosher salt if you're me), or a heaping 1/4 tsp regular salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 hard-boiled egg yolks
2 raw egg yolks
1/2 cup chopped chocolate, or 3/4 cup mini chips (if using the latter, chop a few up into scraps, to get those little bits that will melt into the batter and make it all the better)

Sift together the rice flour, sorghum flour, tapioca starch, cocoa powder, baking soda, and xanthan gum. Set aside.

In a mixer, cream together the butter with the brown sugar and sugar until they're light and fluffy. Add the salt, vanilla, and crumble in the hard-boiled egg yolks. If you're mixing by hand, you may want to pass the yolks through a seive to make sure they are broken up into small pieces, but with a mixer and the granular sugar, you should be fine. Mix another minute or two, until the mixture is well-combined and fluffy. Add the raw yolks, and stir until just combined.

Add your dry ingredients, mixing until they are completely incorporated. Mix in the chopped chocolate until it is evenly dispersed. Lay out a piece of plastic wrap or waxed or parchment paper (or, if you're me, a cut-open plastic bag because you don't seem to have either of the other items). Take half the dough, shape it into a chubby sausage with a 1 1/2" diameter, and wrap it tightly in your covering of choice. Repeat with the remaining dough. Refrigerate overnight.

The next day, preheat your oven to 325 degrees farenheit. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats, if you've got them (or else just grease them well and hope for the best).

Take out one of your dough tubes, and slice the cookies into hefty 1/4" discs (I might have been closer to 1/3"). Set the rounds of dough onto one of the prepared sheets, leaving a few inches between (they will spread). Bake 12 minutes -- the cookies should be set enough to have something of a crust, but they will not be close to being firm or done. Remove, and let cool on the sheets. Repeat with remaining disc. The cookies will remain slightly soft when warm, but firm up upon cooling. They're delicious either way.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Best Vegan Brownies

Nearly a decade ago, I briefly considered going vegan. And it pretty much began and ended with a pan of brownies. I don't remember the ideological tipping point, but I do remember buying a round of vegan groceries to prepare for this new phase. I found a recipe for vegan brownies, blitzed some silken tofu in the food processor, and set out to prove that vegan desserts could be delicious. The resulting brownies were terrible. So terrible that when my housemate ate some, she didn't ask what was wrong with the brownies. She just asked what were those? The tofu created a gelatinous texture, so that they weren't even identifiable as members of the brownies species. Just some bouncy, chocolate-soy concoction. Terrible. On my next shopping trip, I bought some butter.

To be fair, I'm something of a snob when it comes to brownies. I like them dense and fudgey, and full of deep chocolate flavor. No soy aftertaste, no dry cakiness. Just brownies. With a dairy-free boyfriend and a handful of vegan friends, I've certainly experimented with my share of butter-free baking. I've found delicious vegan chocolate cookies, and a sophisticated dairy-free olive oil rosemary cake. But brownies have remained off the menu. At their fudgey best, brownies are essentially just butter, eggs and chocolate, with a bit of flour to bind and sugar to sweeten. How do you veganize that?

Amazingly, there's a way. The secret to great vegan brownies? Vegan ice cream! Some pioneering vegan had the brilliant idea to melt some vegan ice cream to use as the liquid portion, taking advantage of its thickeners and binders to add luscious fudgey body to the finished brownies (because unless you're gluten-free to boot, you probably don't have xantham gum and other such items lying around your kitchen). There's no troublesome margarine either (which has a tendency to add an off flavor and oily finish when subbed for butter), just a splash of oil. I tinkered with the recipe a bit, refining the technique, increasing the salt, and reducing the amount of leavening and the cooking time to increase the fudginess. The resulting brownies? They actually taste like brownies. Like great brownies.

Best Vegan Brownies

adapted from this recipe

yields an 8" square pan

Chocolate soy ice cream gives these an extra chocolatey oomph, but vanilla also works. I used a mint chocolate marble we had in the fridge, which nicely complemented the flavors.

3/4 cup flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup melted soy ice cream (the volume will reduce as it melts, so start with a little more than half a cup)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup chocolate chips or chopped chocolate (optional)
1/4 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 8" square brownie pan.

Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

Whisk together the melted soy ice cream, vegetable oil, sugar and vanilla. Fold in the dry ingredients until just combined. Fold in the chocolate chips and walnuts, if using. Pour into your prepared pan -- the mixture will be somewhat thick, so use a spatula or your fingers to make sure the mixture is distributed evenly to the edges of the pan. Bake about 15-20 minutes -- the top should be set, but a tester should still have a bit of fudgey goo instead of set crumbs. Remove from the oven, let cool, and devour. Like most brownies, these are best when they've set for at least an hour.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Kale Chips

I tend to lag somewhat behind the trends. I generally don't discover television programs until they've been released on dvd (and I'm not talking about teensy artsy sleeper hits -- I'm talking about shows like The Sopranos). I didn't hear The Clash until I was in college. Which was in the late 90s. I remember pulling a copy of London Calling off the shelf at the college radio station, bringing it proudly to a friend in the booth and asking if he'd heard it. He nodded, waiting for the punch line. "It's really good!" I said. "Yeah," he said slowly, confused at my enthusiasm, "didn't you go to high school?" So it's possible what I'm about to tell you is no revelation. But even so, it doesn't dampen my enthusiasm. Have you tried kale chips? They're really good!

A quick google search on "kale chips" yields a couple hundred thousand results, so it's possible you have heard of them. But if you're a laggard like me, get thee to the produce section and try some. Kale, everyone's favorite superfood, is chopped into bite-sized sections, tossed with a wee bit of oil and a good bit of salt, and roasted in a low oven until crisp. The resulting chips are totally addictive, and best of all don't yield the usual snackfood hangover (in either your conscience or your gut). If you've been wondering how to get your daily dose of leafy greens, or what to serve as a slightly healthy superbowl snack, kale chips might be just what you've been needing. Who knew?

Kale Chips

serves ~2, depending on the size of your kale bunch and the extent of your snacky hunger

I'm normally a fan of kale stems, and pooh-pooh any recommendations for stripping them from the leaves. But in this case, the stems will still be steamy-soft by the time the leaves are crisp, which isn't really so awesome. So in this case, strip the leaves. A fellow blogger recommended eating the raw stems with hummous, and we've also sliced them up and cooked them into a scramble to good effect.

1 bunch kale, any variety
olive oil

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees.

Wash and dry the kale, strip the leaves from the tough center stems, and chop into pieces. Larger chunks are more dramatic, but will also shatter messily when bitten, so I aim for something a little larger than a potato chip (they'll shrink a bit). If you have one of those nifty olive oil spray bottles, mist the leaves, or else drizzle with a wee bit of olive oil and shake in a bag or between two bowls until the oil is evenly distributed and the leaves are just coated. Sprinkle with salt. Spread on a single layer on two baking sheets, and bake until quite crisp (~15-20 minutes). I turn them once during baking, but that might not be necessary.