Thursday, February 19, 2009

Lemon Sables

In this post-graduate part of my life, there are many things I miss about school. While I wouldn't go back if given the opportunity, I never anticipated a lot of the stress and confusion that goes along with everything. My biggest worries are no longer "What will I wear to happy hour?" but instead, "What's my career plans? Where is my life going? Where's everything else going?" Some people might thrive on that kind of uncertainty, calling it excitement, but I'm not one of them. My job is moving in two years and I need to figure out if I'll be going with it; my friends will probably all move away, and boyfriend situation's up in the air (we've got very different future plans).

What I miss most is having roommates. I lived with my three best friends (and sometimes additional people) for 4 years, and it was like having built in fun 24/7 (well, most of the time). It was nice that no matter what I did I had friends there doing it with me, whether it was getting drunk for Mardi Gras or cooking a Thanksgiving dinner or just loafing around watching hours of wedding shows on the Style Network. So it was definitely nice to recreate all of this on a recent Saturday night, when my best friend (and former roommate) Jenn came by, and we sat around the entire night drinking wine and eating my new official favorite cookies.

Those would be Dorie's Lemon Sables. These were incredible! Between the two of us, we demolished about 20 of them. I also made a batch for a Superbowl party, and they got my guy friends' approval (they merely said, "Wow these are good," instead of busting my chops as usual). And my boyfriend, who is notorious for his extremely small appetite, ate an entire half batch alone. That, my friends, is no small wonder. And it's proof of the awesomeness of these cookies.

This is a very basic recipe, one which encourages customization and new versions. I personally can't wait to try the Smitten Kitchen Margarita Cookies version, but for now, I wanted to try out the base recipe and see where that went. And it was truly delicious: crumbly, simple, buttery cookies with a crackly coating of sanding sugar sprinkles around the edges.

Lemon Sables, from Dorie Greenspan, Baking From My Home to Yours
2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup confectioner's sugar
2 sticks butter, at room temp
2 large egg yolks
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1/4 tsp fleur de sel
To Decorate:
1 egg yolk, beaten
Sanding sugar
Pour the granulated sugar into a bowl. Add lemon zest and rub together with fingers until fragrant (this is the best smell in the world).
Beat the butter in a mixer on medium speed until smooth and creamy. Add the sugars and mix until smooth, being careful not to beat in too much air. Reduce speed to low and beat in egg yolks.
Pour in all the flour. Cover mixer with a towel or guard and pulse until dough is uniformly moist. This is like a shortbread, so be careful not to overmix. The dough won't really come together, and that's fine.
Scrape dough onto a work surface and gather into a ball. Divide this in half, and roll each half into a log, working the dough as little as possible. I find it easiest to smush it into a messy rectangle on top of a piece of Press and Seal, then use the press and seal to cover it and then roll it into a neater log shape.
Refrigerate for 2 hours, or up to 3 days. Dough can be frozen for 2 months at this point.
When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350. Line a baking sheet (I use nonstick foil). Brush the outsides of each log with egg yolk, and sprinkle or roll in sanding sugar. Slice into 1/3 thick slices and bake for 17-20 minutes. Remove from oven, let rest five minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Strawberry Scones

So here's another recipe for what's turning into a collection of breakfast breads. For a year or two now, I've been on the hunt for the best scone recipe. I've tried many from cookbooks, Food Network, and Allrecipes, some of which have been just terrible, some of which have been declared delicious by my roommates (well, not all my roommates but that's another story), but somehow I found that awesomeness factor eluded me.

So I turned to Dorie Greenspan, as usual. All of her recipes thus far have been great, so I went for the Sweet Cream Scones. I doctored them using some frozen strawberries (really not all that smart in hindsight, kinda watery). They were very quick to throw together My mother thought these were very good. And from the picture below, so did my dog! (though that's not saying much she eats everything).

But my verdict? Still lacked that awesome factor...I think what I've learned here is that I just don't love scones...but if you do, check this out. I recommend them warm from the oven, topped with a little jam.

Cream Scones, adapted from Dorie Greenspan, Baking from My Home to Yours

1 large egg
2/3 cup cold heavy cream
2 cups flour
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
5 tbsp butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup strawberries, halved or quartered

Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with nonstick foil or parchment.

Stir the egg and cream together.

Whisk the flour, salt, sugar, and baking powder together in a large bowl. Drop in the butter, and using your hands, toss to coat and then rub the butter into the dry ingredients until mix is pebbly. You will have a very nonhomogenous mix, with big and small chunks of buttery flour.

Pour the egg and cream over the dry ingredients and stir just until the dough comes together. It will be wet and sticky, not fun to handle. Drop in the strawberries, and fold a few times with a spatula to combine. Don't overwork.

Lightly dust a work surface with flour. My favorite method is to masking tape a big piece of wax paper to my counter for easiest clean up. Divide the dough in half and quickly shape into a big rectangle, flattening with your hands but being careful not to overwork. Cut into six wedges. Repeat with other half.

Bake scones for 20-22 minutes, until golden and firm. Transfer to a rack to cool for ten minutes before serving.

These can be frozen. Defrost at room temp and reheat in oven before enjoying.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Coconut Cake

Let me start by saying this is the worst picture ever. I made the cake for my mom's friend's birthday, so it disappeared from my house shortly before I really had an opportunity to look at the pictures I'd taken and realize the lighting was all wrong!

But seriously, don't let the terrible picture put you off the cake. It was incredible. It got rave reviews via text message from all my mom's friends. It's a moist, delicious cake, flavored and covered with unsweetened coconut, which perfectly balances the supersweet, light-as-air buttercream. I was surprised I liked this, because I'm not usually into layer cakes and frosting, but it was awesome.

Coconut Cake, adapted from Carole Walter's Great Cakes
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut (I found it in the organic section at Wegman's)
2 1/3 cups cake flour*
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 cup (1 and 1/3 sticks) butter
1 and 1/3 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract

In a small saucepan, scald the milk and take it off the heat. Let steep for 30 minutes.

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 350. Butter and flour 2 9" round cake pans.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt, and set aside.

Cut the butter into 1 inch piecces and put them in the large bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the beaters or paddle attachment. Soften on low speed, and cream until smooth and light in color, about 2 mins.

Add the sugar, slowly, taking about 6 to 8 minutes to blend it in well.

Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides. Blend in the vanilla.

Reduce mixer speed to low and add the flour in 3 additions, alternating with the coconut/milk mix in two additions, beginning and ending with the flour. Mix just until incorporated, scrape down sides of bowl, and mix 10 seconds longer.

Spoon the batter into prepared pans and bake for 25-30 minutes, until a tester inserted comes out clean.

Remove from oven, allow to cool 10 minutes, then invert pans onto racks and let cool completely.
Quick Buttercream Frosting, adapted from Carole Walter's Great Cakes
4 and 1/2 tbsp all purpose flour
1 and 1/4 cup milk
1 and 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter
1 and 1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract

This recipe makes a large quantity of frosting, as that's one thing you don't want to skimp on when making a cake!

The frosting starts by making a bechamel sauce. Place the flour in a small saucepan, and whisk milk in slowly. Over low heat, whisk constantly, until the mixture comes to a boil and thickens to a thick white sauce. Remove from heat and whisk to remove any lumps. Let the mixture cool for about 10 minutes. It needs to be warm enough to blend in but not so warm that it will melt the butter.

While that cools, cut the butter into one inch pieces and place in the bowl of an electric mier. Soften on low speed, increase speed to medium high, and cream until light and smooth.

Reduce speed to medium. Gradually add sugar. Then add the bechamel sauce over about thirty seconds. Blend in the vanilla and beat for 20 to 30 seconds, until the frosting is fluffy.

To assemble the cake, slice off the tops if they have crowned. Brush crumbs away. Using an offset spatula, place a large dollop on the top of one cake, and spread it to about 1/4" from the edge. Place second cake on top. Cover entire cake with a thin coat, and let dry for about 10 minutes. This is your crumb coat. It will seal in any crumbs so that the next layer of frosting is pristine white. Using the rest of the buttercream, dollop it on top and around the sides, smoothing to an even layer. It doesn't have to be perfect. Using your hands, press coconut flakes into the sides of the cake. Cover evenly.

This cake can be refrigerated, but bring it to room temp before serving. The cake will keep, covered, in the fridge, for up to 5 days.

*If you don't have cake flour, you can substitute one cup of all purpose flour less two tablespoons for every 1 cup of cake flour.