12.29.2011

Here's to Rosemary Pear Sparkling Cocktails

We are on the eve of a new year.  Can you hear the noisemakers and balcony whoops yet?  Well, they are coming.  So break out your sequins or put in your earplugs.  Both reactions are perfectly acceptable. For me, it’s hard to resist going out on a high note, whatever that might mean. 

One year I spent New Year’s with a loved one, a lobster, and a comfortable red couch.  Another Eve I started it off by cracking open some oyster shells.  And ended it by ordering a glass of gin at a bar that was very unfortunately out of green olives.  This year, things won’t likely be quite so … spirited. Though, I am planning to make it past midnight.

At the moment, I look to the chairman of the board and some bubbly for a little celebratory encouragement.  Sinatra’s advice: come in out of the rain; those torches you carry must be drowned in champagne.

The bubbly doesn’t sing quite as loudly as old blue eyes, but it coaxes to do much of the same.  And if we use sparkling wine, it presents us with a very lovely canvas to gild. Should you feel so inclined.

The undertones of rosemary offer up a gentle kick, reminiscent of the recent holiday.  While the pear lends a certain cozy sweetness to help us all settle into winter.  The effect is subtle, but it’s a festive change of pace from straight bubbles.

So who knows what old Eve and her year ahead will serve up.  It’s blank at the moment.  Best we can do is toast to it all.  To the last drinks of the year and to whatever the next round may bring.  Here’s to those that serve sparkling cocktails.  Bless them all.

Rosemary Pear Sparkling Cocktails

Ingredients:

For the rosemary pear syrup

3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup water
1 ripe pear, cut into slices
3 sprigs rosemary
Pinch of salt

For the cocktail

Rosemary pear syrup, to taste (recipe above)
A bottle of sparkling wine
A lemon, the zest and a few tablespoons of lemon juice, for garnish
Additional sugar, for garnish

Instructions:

Prepare the syrup the night before you plan on using it by combining the sugar and water in a medium saucepan on medium heat.  Add the pear, sprigs of rosemary, and salt and heat until the sugar dissolves and the pear softens (about 10 minutes or so).  Let the mixture cool and then place in the fridge (pears and rosemary included) overnight.  

To make the cocktail, prepare a small plate filled with a few tablespoons of lemon juice and another small plate filled with a few tablespoons of sugar.  Dip the rim of a cocktail glass into the plate with lemon juice and then gently roll the edges of the glass in the sugar.  Place a few spoonfuls of the chilled syrup into the bottom of your glass; top with sparkling wine and garnish with lemon zest.

Notes:
-This is not a serious recipe.  Taste and adjust as you go. Heck, drink the whole bottle if you have to in the name of research.

-You'll likely have leftover syrup.  It wouldn't hurt to drizzle it over pears dotted with blue cheese.

-I left the skin on my pear.  You could certainly peel it, should you wish to do so.  If your pear happens to break up a bit during the cooking (mine held together) I imagine it's nothing a quick strain couldn't fix prior to serving.


12.21.2011

Gingerbread with Espresso Glaze ... and Elves

Pull up a chair, grab a hot chocolate or some warm mulled wine, and settle in for a moment.  Let me tell you a little Christmas story.  It’s about a girl who dreams of making gingerbread and fruitcake every year in December.

She envisions candying citrus peels and pickling cherries in maraschino liqueur in her tiny kitchen for the fruitcake.  She dreams of eating hunks of gingerbread with bits of spicy sugared ginger for breakfast and sipping peppermint tea, while beautifully wrapped gifts lay under her tree.  Except, she can never get her act together in time. 

This December, things would be different.  

She enlists the help of some elves—otherwise known as Justin and David—who have hearts of gold.  David also has a heart that is slightly blackened and a wee bit cynical.  Justin’s heart commonly includes the characteristics of an eighty year old grandfather and it would bleed cloves and molasses if it could.  She loves this about them.  She finds these traits beyond endearing.

And so she is happily lured into an eight hour Christmas baking project.  The sweets list includes peanut brittle; fancy glass-bottomed walnut polvorones; gingerbread (finally); and sugar cookies laced heavy-handedly with peppermint icing reminiscent of Dr. McGillicuddy’s mentholmint schnapps.  (You can probably guess which elderly elf was behind the menthol.)

Sinatra’s “Christmas Waltz” plays nearly every hour as the delicate dance of Christmas cookie madness carries on.  The day is filled with joyful laughter, some Christmas traditions of yore made anew again, and a frosting of good old-fashioned holiday bitterness.  And, oh yes, there is also gingerbread.

The gingerbread is dark and laced with cloves, cinnamon, and ginger.  It’s dense and assertive in its flavors.  It’s everything a good gingerbread should be.  It also includes a deep espresso icing as a wonderful compliment: for the day of Christmas baking, as well as for the gingerbread itself.  This icing is not to be left off.  Trust the elves on this one.  

So while there is no fruitcake this year, our little friend is not worried.  There is always next year.  Right now there is the reminder of a month filled with really wonderful Christmas memories.  And if this happens to involve some gingerbread, well then, that’s just icing.  Wishing you and yours the same thing too.

Gingerbread with Espresso Glaze
Adapted from Joanne Chang's Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston's Flour Bakery + Cafe

Ingredients:

For the cake
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
3 tbsp freshly grated ginger
2 eggs
3.5 cups flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp freshly ground grains of paradise (or black pepper)
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves (freshly ground, if possible)
1.5 cups unsulfured molasses
1 cup boiling water
1 tsp baking soda

For the espresso glaze
1 cup confectioners' sugar
2-3 tbsp espresso 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter and flour a 9 x 13 baking dish (or alternatively some smaller dishes, such as brioche tins, as pictured). Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, cream butter and brown sugar together until light and fluffy (about 2 minutes).  Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together grated ginger and eggs.  On low speed, slowly add the egg mixture to the creamed butter mixture until combined.  Scrape the sides of the bowl and beat again to ensure the mixture is fully blended.

In a medium bowl, sift flour, baking powder, salt, ground ginger, grains of paradise (or pepper), cinnamon, and cloves.  In another medium bowl, mix molasses, boiling water, and baking soda together.  (The mixture will foam up quite severely.)  

On the mixer's lowest speed, add about 1/3 of the flour mixture to the creamed butter mixture and mix; add in half of the molasses mixture until well combined (scraping down the sides as necessary) and then add in half of the remaining flour mixture until combined.  Add the rest of the molasses mixture, mix well, and then add the remaining flour and mix until combined (about a minute or so), stopping to scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl to ensure everything is well combined. (Lots of combining going on.)

Bake for 50-60 minutes (or less if you are using individual tins: ours took about 40 minutes).  Meanwhile, make the espresso if you do not have any on hand.  The cake is done when it spring back or a cake tester comes out clean.  Let cool on wire racks.  

Whisk the confectioners' sugar and espresso together until it is smooth and pourable.  While the cake is still warm, pour glaze over the top and let sit for one hour before serving.

Makes one 9 x 13 cake (or a number of smaller cakes: hard to say when you start snacking)

Notes:
-If you don't have access to espresso, you can brew double strength coffee as a substitute.

-The cake can be stored airtight at room temperature for up to three days.  I've stashed my leftovers, frosted and all, in the freezer and they've still been quite good.

-Grains of paradise are a little bit more floral than black pepper.  I had some around and thought, what the heck, it will be a nice change of pace.  Don't make a special trip for the grains.

-This is another instance where Ms. Chang is queen.  Her recipes still have yet to do anything but please.  I think her cookbook has been the best investment I've made all year.  (Santa, not to be too bossy, but if you are in need of last minute gifts for others: take note.)

12.15.2011

Rum Raisin Ice Cream Pa Rum Pum Pum Pum


The season is getting on.  I’ve been bottling Christmas spirit and hoping for a small Christmas miracle that I’ll make it through in one piece.  My tree currently leans slightly to the left.  I’ve already overdone it on the nog.  And I wish the rest of my holiday gifts would just buy and wrap themselves already.

But hey, sugar plum.  Life’s not so rough.  Especially when it involves a little nip of rum blended into a custard base dotted with boozed up raisins.  In this case, the finest gifts it brings.

It just so happens that I have a good friend that is a very good pastry chef. And he has some very good desserts on his menu at Harvest restaurant: some of the best that I’ve tasted in Boston over the seven years I’ve lived here. The man knows how to bake; his passion for it is beyond charming.  And he was gracious enough to share his recipe for rum raisin ice cream with me.  Tis. the. season.

I could list off Brian’s “on paper” points.  He’s taken home “Best in Show” dessert titles.  He works with Mary Dumont.  Before her, he was at Henrietta’s Table in the Charles Hotel.  He’s certainly no slouch in the kitchen. 

But some of my most favorite things about him are much less conventional.  He’s capable of carrying on a conversation about macarons for over an hour.  He’s getting "BAKE" tattooed on his wrist.  I recently witnessed him impulse buy a vintage sugar crate.  He also likes buffalo-fried brussels sprouts. And he’s been endearing fatherly towards men that have approached me at bars.  In short, he’s a guy you want to grab a beer—or an ice cream cone—with. 

And, oh yes, I should reiterate: rum. raisin. ice cream. And if you think the ice cream looks enticing, you should have seen it paired alongside sticky toffee pudding.  Alas, the sticky toffee rum raisin special has ended at Harvest.  But I assure you there is much more to come.  The winter dessert menu he has been planning over the past few months is the stuff of dreams.  Visions of sugar plum-like dreams.

In the meantime, you might want to make this ice cream.  It’s hard to feel anything but tidings of joy when it’s around.

Rum Raisin Ice Cream
Adapted from Brian Mercury of Harvest

1 cup raisins
2/3 cup dark rum plus 1/4 cup divided
2 cup milk
2 cup heavy cream
2/3 cup sugar plus 1 tbsp, divided
Pinch of salt
8 egg yolks (see note below)

Soak raisins in 2/3 cup rum for 12-24 hours in the fridge.  After raisins have been soaked, combine milk, heavy cream, 2/3 cup sugar, and pinch of salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a very slow boil, being careful to stir the mixture so the milk does not burn at the bottom of the pan.  Meanwhile, beat the eggs in a medium bowl.  Once the milk mixture has been heated and the sugar has dissolved, slowly temper the eggs by placing a little of the hot milk mixture (about 1/4 cup or less at a time) into the bowl with the eggs.  Repeat this a few times, until the eggs have been warmed.  Slowly add the eggs to your milk base and cook on medium heat until the mixture thickens (and reaches 180 degrees).  

Pour the custard mixture through a strainer and cool completely, ideally in an ice bath.  (You can prepare an ice bath by sandwiching a smaller sized metal bowl on top of another bowl filled with ice cubes; pour your hot mixture into the smaller bowl.)  Alternatively, you could cool the mixture in your fridge until it's fully chilled.

Meanwhile, strain the rum from the raisins.  Set the rum aside and return the raisins to their bowl.  Add another 1/4 cup of rum to the raisins and stick them back in the fridge.  Meanwhile, heat the rum you set aside in a small pan with 1 tbsp sugar to create a rum syrup. Heat and reduce this liquid by about half (it should be about 1/4 cup).  Place rum syrup in the fridge to cool completely.

When your custard mixture is fully chilled, freeze it according to your ice cream maker's instructions (this usually takes about 25 minutes).  About 22-23 minutes in, slowly add in your chilled rum syrup and rum plumped raisins, along with the additional rum the raisins were soaked in.  Let the mixture blend for a minute or two longer.  Pack your ice cream in a container (with a tight-fitting lid) and cover it with parchment paper and then freeze it.

Makes about 1 quart

Notes:
-You'll want to start this recipe a day in advance and also plan for the custard base to chill for at least 4-6 hours (if you are not using an ice bath).

-Brian's recipe did not call for all the rum shenanigans I've mentioned.  He simply added 2/3 cup of rum straight to his milk mixture before bringing it to a boil.  I've always added booze at the final few minutes of the ice cream's freezing process.  So I freaked out for a hot minute and then decided to do a little of both by making a rum syrup, as well as adding in some straight rum.  It froze wonderfully.  (Too much booze and your ice cream won't freeze.)

-Brian's recipe called for 12 egg yolks, but this scared me.  (I don't really have a good reason why.)  So I was a wuss and used 8.

12.06.2011

Have Yourself A Merry Amount of Eggnog

Let’s talk eggnog, shall we?  There are two very distinct camps on the beverage.  There are those for whom eggnog ranks right up there with cream colored ponies and crisp apple strudels. People who believe it's filled with sugar and spice and everything nice.  And just to be clear here, the nice I am referring to is booze.  Lots of it. 

And there are those who wouldn’t dream of pairing brandy and bourbon, or some other familial combination of spirits thereof, with egg yolks and cream.  Those that just plead yuk.

I have a number of friends that—luckily—fall into the former category.  You can only have yourself a merry little Christmas for so long drinking so much eggnog on your own. I have one friend that fondly refers to it as the abominable nog beast.  He also has uttered the phrase “I was in it for the nog.”  You can probably see why we get along.  I also have a dear friend that is making eggnog for her Christmas party this Saturday, despite the fact that she’s allergic to eggs.  And I have yet another eggnog-loving friend who recently hosted a holiday party.  Our e-mail conversation prior, about what I should bring, went something like this:

Subject: The Nog

I’ve thought about it.  Do you mind if I bring eggnog instead of shrimp on Sunday?  I realize we’ve just taken the healthy train way off the tracks, but tis the season to derail.  Let me know …

Subject: Re: The Nog

Since one of my most absolute favorite things of all time is eggnog, I would love it if you brought some.  Tis the season to derail, fa la la la la la la la la.

Some of her response was typed in all caps and the use of nine—yes nine—consecutive exclamation marks was employed.  What can I say, eggnog is stuff Christmas anticipation is made of. 

This is probably a good time to mention that this recipe is legendary in my family.  My aunt makes it every year on Christmas Eve.  And—bless her heart—she manages to use both low fat milk and low fat ice cream and somehow makes it work.  Unfortunately, I don’t believe in low fat ice cream.  You might as well tell me that Santa has started wearing Spanx.  So technically this is her tradition, fattened up a bit.

What is particularly special about her recipe is that the egg yolks get cooked, which means you can enjoy thick, eggy nog without having to worry about anything that rhymes with “hail nutella.” So, if you happen to be quite taken with eggnog, I recommend you try this recipe.  If you aren’t, well, best of luck to you.

I’m not saying I won’t be friends with someone that doesn’t like eggnog.  I’m just saying I’m going to have to think about it.

Christmas Eve Eggnog

2 cups half and half
4 cups whole milk
1 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean pod, split with seeds scraped out
12 large egg yolks
1 cup dark rum
1/2 cup brandy
1/2-3/4 cup bourbon
1 cup heavy cream
2-4 tbsp maple syrup, optional
Freshly grated nutmeg to preference

In a medium saucepan, combine half and half, whole milk, sugar, and vanilla bean seeds and pod and heat on low until mixture reaches a slow simmer.  Meanwhile, in a medium bowl beat the egg yolks.  Gradually whisk the hot milk mixture into the egg yolks a little bit (about 1/4 cup) at a time.  Remove the vanilla bean pod.  Once the egg yolks are warmed from the milk mixture, slowly add them to the saucepan with the rest of the milk.  Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon (the temperature should be just at 180 degrees).  Pour the mixture through a sieve.  

Let the mixture cool slightly.  Add the rum, brandy, and 1/2 cup bourbon.  Refrigerate overnight.  Before you are ready to serve, lightly whip the cream and add it to the eggnog.  (If the cream does not blend well into the eggnog, or if you've overmixed the cream, you can whip the entire mixture to smooth it out.)  Taste and add more booze, if needed.  At this point, you may also decide to sweeten the mixture up by whisking in a little maple syrup.  Grate nutmeg generously on top.

Makes about 10 cups

Notes:
-My aunt adds 2 cups low fat vanilla ice cream that she floats in the eggnog to keep it cold.  Since I used whole milk, I didn't put the ice cream in and instead sweetened it with a bit more with maple syrup.

-At the end of the day I added a bit more booze than my aunt's recipe called for, as well as the vanilla and nutmeg.  It's hard to leave a recipe alone.

-Gosling's black rum was as lovely here as it is in a dark and stormy. 

11.30.2011

Sour Cherry Pie with Whole Wheat Pâte Brisée: We Survived


“White meat is for wusses.”  This is what my brother said at the Thanksgiving table last week. It is entirely possible he was clutching a drumstick at the time. 

This past holiday was not for weaklings.  We had a 16-pound hen turkey that my eighty-eight year old grandmother lugged up from her basement freezer. We debated on just how drunk Frank Sinatra sounded in his holiday record with Bing. And my little cousin quietly (okay, not so quietly) tried to plot a Monopoly coup when I secured hotels on both Boardwalk and Park Place.

It was a take-no-prisoners kind of holiday.  And I was well aware that the pie had better deliver.  Luckily, no one took the pie pan and heaved it out the window.  It was quite good, actually.  In fact, I do believe I’ll likely live to make pie again. 

The whole wheat pâte brisée was purely accidental.  It was my second attempt at making this Thanksgiving's pie crust.  It's best not to get into the first attempt details.  Let's just say it ended in some pretty unfortunate pastry carnage.  I don't want to implicate the bread flour, but it knows what it did.  

As for the sour cherries?  No one in their right mind likely has them right now.  They were collateral damage from a freak farmers' market "accident" this summer.  At the time I desperately needed over fifty dollars worth of sour cherries to, ahem, store in my freezer. 

These mistakes made for a lovely pie.  An “I can absolutely eat this for breakfast” kind of pie.  And lunch.  And dinner.  It was a take-no-prisoners nutty, flaky, cherry-filled pastry.  And it certainly made itself at home with the rest of the holiday.

Sour Cherry Pie with Whole Wheat Pâte Brisée

Ingredients:

Pâte Brisée Crust
Adapted from Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston's Flour Bakery + Cafe by Joanne Chang 

1.75 cups white whole wheat pastry flour
1 tbsp sugar, plus additional sugar for dusting
1 tsp kosher salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cold, cut into 12 pieces
2 egg yolks
3 tbsp whole milk, plus 1 additional tbsp after the pie is filled

Cherry Filling
1 cup sugar
3 tbsp corn starch
1/4 tsp salt
5 cups whole sour cherries, pitted 
1 tsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp almond extract
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp unsalted butter

Crust Instructions:

To made the crust, use a kitchen aid with the paddle attachment or handheld mixer and mix together flour, sugar and salt for about 10 seconds or until combined.  Scatter the butter over the top of the flour and mix on low speed for about 1 minute or until the butter is about the size of pecans and the flour holds together when you pinch it.

In a small bowl, whisk the yolks and 3 tbsp of milk together and then add to flour mixture; mix on low speed for about 30 seconds or until the dough barely comes together.  (At this point it will not look like dough, it will look like a shaggy flour mixture; be careful not to overmix it.)

Dump the flour on to an unfloured space and gather it together into a tight mound.  With the palm of your hand push the top of the mound down and out, smearing the dough as you go.  Repeat this about once or twice on each part of the dough until the butter is smeared throughout and you can see streaks of it (this should take about 6-10 smearings).  Gather up the dough and wrap it tightly with plastic wrap.  It needs to rest at least 4 hours (or up to 4 days) in the fridge before it is ready to be used.

Pie Instructions:

When the dough is ready, preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Take the dough out of the fridge and allow it to soften slightly to make it easier to roll.  Meanwhile, to make the filling, whisk sugar, cornstarch and salt in a medium bowl; stir in cherries, lemon juice, and extracts and set aside.  

Divide dough into 2 equal pieces; on a floured surface, form 1 piece of the dough into a circle and roll it out until it is 12 inches in diameter.  (Using your rolling pin, roll the dough out in one direction instead of rolling your pin back and forth.  Pause to shift the dough ninety degrees to ensure that the dough rolls out evenly.)  Once the first piece of dough is rolled out, place it on a plate in the fridge until it is ready to be used.  

Repeat your rolling with the second dough piece.  Then, roll this dough round gently around your rolling pin and then slowly unroll it on to a 9-inch pie pan; gently coax the dough into the pan by pushing the edge of the dough so that it slides into the bottom of the pie pan and then press the dough gently into the bottom of the pan.  Let the excess dough hang off the sides of the pan.

Pour the filling into the middle of the pie pan, dot with 2 tbsp of butter. Roll the other dough round loosely around your rolling pin and unroll it on top of the filling.  Trim the excess dough so that it is 1/2 inch from the lip of the pie pan, using a knife.  Crimp the top and bottom crust edges together.  Cut about eight 2 inch slits into the top pie crust.  Brush the top crust with 1 tbsp of milk and sprinkle with sugar (about 1 tbsp). 

Place the pie on a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes; reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees and bake for about 50-60 minutes longer.  Check occasionally to make sure the pie edges aren't browning too much; cover them with foil to prevent further browning, as necessary.  The pie is done when the crust is golden brown and the cherry juices are bubbling.  Let cool on a wire rack, about 4 hours, before serving.

Yields one sweet pie

Notes:
-I combined a few different recipes to come up with this one, including this one from Bon Appetit. I wanted to use Chang's pâte brisée because I "get" how she explains pastry.  And, let's be honest, this was a high stakes pie mission.  Chang uses all purpose flour for her crust.  If you want to do a whole grain crust you'll want to use pastry flour, otherwise just use regular flour.  The crust turned out great, whole wheat and all.

-If you are using frozen cherries, you can heat your cherry filling ever so slightly in a pan just until the cherries soften.  You don't want the mixture to be hot, nor do you want the cherries to still be frozen when you pour it into the pie pan.

-The instructions for this recipe are a bit intense.  I know.  And for this I am sorry.   

11.22.2011

Pecan Bars: A Prelude to Thanksgiving (And Tribute to Pat Benatar)


Thanksgiving.  It's coming.  I'm doing most of the cooking this year.  And I just got off the phone with my mother.

Most everyone that cooks has a bête noire in the kitchen.  I can talk turkey all day long.  Cranberry sauce?  Bring it, New England.  Dinner doesn’t scare me.  But pie?  Pie terrifies.  This is the first year I’m attempting it.  The pie conversation with my mother went something like this:

Me: “I’m making the pie crust tonight.”
Mom: “That’s nice, honey.”
Me: “I was psyching myself up for it on my walk home.”
Me: “I was humming “Eye of the Tiger.””
Mom: “How about “Hit Me With Your Best Shot?””  “I saw Pat Benatar this summer.” “So I can say that.”

This was the pie pep talk I precisely needed to have.  We’ll see how it all goes down.  But for now: fire away.

For those that want to forgo the whole potential pie disaster—or for those that simply don’t get jazzed by Rocky Balboa or Pat Benatar—these bars are a lovely substitute for pecan pie.  I was lucky enough to attend a Cook’s Illustrated cocktail party a few weeks ago.  They served wonderful broiled shrimp with coriander and lemon, Spanish tortilla with garlic mayo, chocolate pots de crème, and what looked to be fairly innocent pecan bars. 

The bars are simply beyond. They have a slightly salty edge with a dose of bourbon that helps to prevent them from being too sweet, as can happen with pecan pie.  Cook's Illustrated was gracious enough to share their recipe with me.  And for this, I will be forever thankful.  Since making them, they’ve inspired a few OMGs, some cursing about having to wear spandex, and a vague kidnapping threat.

So consider making the bars as a prelude to Thanksgiving.  Or as pie backup.  Just in case.  Regardless of how the pie turns out, it’s nice knowing that these little numbers are ready for action.  As for the pie?  Put up your dukes, let’s get down to it.

Pecan Bars

Ingredients:

Bars
1 cup all purpose flour
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped
1 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp baking powder
6 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces and chilled

Filling
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup light corn syrup (I used brown rice syrup)
4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 tbsp bourbon
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 large egg
About 1.5 cups whole pecans 

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Liberally butter an 8 inch square pan.  Pulse flour, sugar, chopped pecans, salt, and baking powder in a food processor for about 5 pulses; sprinkle butter on top and pulse about 8 more pulses, until the mixture looks like course cornmeal.  Pour the mixture into your buttered baking pan and press it down evenly with the back of a measuring cup.  Bake until the crust begins to brown and you start to smell it, about 20-24 minutes.

Meanwhile, for the filling combine the brown sugar, corn syrup, melted butter, bourbon, vanilla and salt in a large bowl to dissolve the sugar; whisk in the egg.  When the crust is done, pour filling over crust; sprinkle with pecans and bake until the pecans start to brown (about 25-30 minutes) rotating the pan half way through.

Let the bars cool completely before cutting and serving.  

Makes about 16 bars

Notes:
-Cook's recommends laying foil down (and greasing the foil) to help remove the bars when the time comes.  Lazily, I just buttered the pan and hoped for the best.  While the first bar was a little tricky to remove, my bars came out just fine.  And so I'd say the foil is up to you.

-I had the brown rice syrup leftover from an ice cream project I'll blissfully be sharing in a few weeks. I used the Lundberg brand because I'm not a huge fan of corn syrup as a general rule.  Baker's choice.

-In the interest of full disclosure, I didn't have a square pan and so I used a round one and just cut squares out of it.  It was absolutely fine (and this allowed for bar scrapes).

-Many thanks to Cook's Illustrated.  And a happy Thanksgiving to all.

11.15.2011

By Chance, Spiced Banana Bread with Cinnamon Crumble Topping


This banana bread happened by chance.  I was hungry for comfort.  I had gone to the market to make roast chicken and ended up with a bunch of bananas in my bag that did not belong to me.  I believe in things like that.  I took it to mean that I desperately needed banana-related baked goods in my immediate future.

As a general rule, I’m not good at anticipating banana bread.  You have to buy bananas and then get comfortable with them sitting quietly, turning into what look like intensely spotted yellow and brown giraffe necks.  I just can’t get relaxed about that sort of thing.  But I can get relaxed about eating banana bread.  So I let them ripen.  And then got to work.

This bread has since been slathered with warm memories.  I made it for a trip I took with some friends to the Adirondack Mountains.  On Saturday morning, we stood around the camp kitchen island and sliced off bits while we chatted and the coffee pot worked overtime.  As we reduced the bread to a mere nub, my mother flipped enough pumpkin pancakes to feed a forest of lumberjacks.  

We laughed a lot that weekend.  We tasted wine from a local winery called Montezuma, tried on fur hats, talked about hot cinnamon-sugared donuts, and visited quite possibly the most quintessential general store on the East Coast.

We also enjoyed our fair share of banana bread.  And so I’ve begun think of this recipe as living in the company of warm friends and brisk mornings.  It’s spiced with cardamom, ginger, and allspice and the crunchy cinnamon sugar crust just begs to be paired with a good cup of coffee and a companion or two.  It’s a fairly new recipe to me, but it already feels seasoned. It’s just that kind of bread.  The kind that makes you thankful for good friends and overripe bananas. 

Spiced Banana Bread with Cinnamon Crumble Topping

Ingredients:

The bread
1.5 cups all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cardamom (freshly ground if possible)
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 cup mashed bananas (about 3 bananas)
2 large eggs
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup water
(Plus butter and additional flour for the loaf pan)

The topping
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2.5 tbsp packed dark brown sugar

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter and flour a 9 x 5 loaf pan.  In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, sugar, spices, baking soda, and salt.  In a large bowl, combine the banana, eggs, oil, honey, and water.  Add the flour mixture to the banana mixture and stir until combined.  Pour the batter into the buttered and floured loaf pan.

In a small bowl, mix the topping ingredients; sprinkle the topping on top of the batter.  Bake for about an hour or until a toothpick or cake tester comes about clean.  Cool the bread in its pan on a wire rack for 30 minutes and then remove the bread from the pan.  (Run a knife along the edges of the pan to loosen it; it may take some gentle coaxing and slight side tilting to remove the loaf, but you should be able to do it without losing much of the crumb topping.)  

Yield: 1 loaf

Notes:
-The cardamom really comes through in this loaf.  It's a nice change of pace from a standard banana bread and goes well with the crunchy cinnamon topping, but feel free to leave it off if you aren't keen on the spice.

-You may be inclined to forgo the topping, but it really makes the bread and moves it one step closer to coffee cake.  And this is a very, very good thing.

-This is a version of a version.  Molly Wizenberg attributes this recipe to Bakesale Betty and Bon Appétit.