Wednesday, February 29, 2012

chocolate ganache thumbprint cookies

I am not completely sure why, but I had these cookies buzzing around in my head for a couple of months before I finally just pulled it together and made them. I wished I would have stepped it up sooner- chocolate (almost shortbread-like) cookie with a puddle of chocolate ganache in the middle? Yes, please. These cookies don't only just look like chocolate, they also taste like chocolate.

The cookie recipe is from Martha Stewart. The ganache recipe is from Ina Garten.

chocolate ganache thumbprint cookies

chocolate cookie dough

2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1) Whisk together flour, cocoa powder, and salt in a large bowl. Beat butter and granulated sugar with mixer on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture, and beat until combined.

2) Roll dough into 1-inch balls. Arrange on parchment lined baking sheets, spacing 1 nice apart.

3) Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

4) Press a well into the center of each using your finger. Refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes.

5) Bake cookies for 7 minutes. Remove from oven, and press well again with handle end of a wooden spoon (I found the handle of my citrus reamer to be a perfect fit). Bake until firm, 7 to 9 minutes more.

6) Let cool completely. Spoon ganache into thumbprints. Let sit until ganache firms up.

chocolate ganache

1/2 cup heavy cream
8 oz good semisweet chocolate chips
1 teaspoon instant coffee granules

1) Cook the heavy cream, chocolate chips, and instant coffee in the top of a double boiler over simmering water until smooth and warm, stirring occasionally.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

reality cookies

This cookie does not look like much. On first glance we can be forgiven for thinking it a basic sugar cookie that someone stuck some m&m's into. Oh how wrong we are. I have loved this cookie for about 15 years. It is a nutty, buttery, crumbly not-too-sweet dough punctuated by little chocolate presents. The secret to this dough is ground almonds.

The recipe is from The Fiddlehead Cookbook. I have referred to this cookbook before. There is a cafe back home that sometimes makes these cookies into giant palm-sized lovelies and stacks them into glass canisters near the cash register. It is genius because, in my opinion, they are not be resisted.

When I got married, the mother of one of my childhood friends cooked up a batch for my bridal shower. She jokingly said she chose them because married life was going to be a whole new "reality" (she was completely right.) The reality in the title of this cookie really comes from "...that granulated sugar and white flour make really good cookies."

reality cookies

3/4 pound butter
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
1 cup finely ground almonds (see note below**)
2 1/2 cups unbleached white flour
1/2 cup M&Ms

1) Preheat oven to 275 (yes, really that low) and arrange racks so they are evenly spaced in center of oven.

2) In a large mixing bowl or the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle, beat butter until fluffy. Add white and brown sugars and continue to beat until light and fluffy.

3) Add almonds and flour. Stir gently until almost completely combined.

4) Add M&Ms and stir just until dough comes together. If you are using a mixing machine, dough will begin to come away from the sides of bowl.

5) Shape dough into ping pong size balls an place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Lightly flour the bottom of a small glass, cookie press, or palm of your hand and flatten each cookie to about 1/2 inch thick. Place an M&M in center of each cookie and bake until very lightly golden brown and beginning to puff slightly in center (about 20 minutes.)

6) Remove from oven and transfer to racks to cool. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days. Makes approx. 32 cookies.

**About ground almonds- I certainly do not claim this to be the "official" way to grind almonds, but here's how I do it: I take handfuls of plain, unroasted almonds and blitz them in the food processor. This makes a horrible raucous (like I am attempting to grind marbles) that is somehow quite satisfying. I process the almonds until they are very finely chopped. Then, I measure one cup of ground almonds, not 1 cup of almonds ground. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

blackberry ice cream

I made this ice cream for my valentine. I served a scoop perched a-top mini molten chocolate cakes. While the chocolate cakes were deep dark chocolatey happiness, I know what my husband really loved was the tart sweet creaminess of this ice cream. I love it for those reasons too but also, is it not the most lovely purple color?

(Side note: I have been pretty obsessed recently with the combination of chocolate and blackberry. I think it started back when I made this cake and topped it with the glistening dark jewels. In addition to the Valentine's day dessert described above, for a friends Birthday I recently made a chocolate truffle cake and served it with a gorgeous slick of blackberry couli and whipped mascarpone cream. Sadly, I failed to photograph it but I predict it will make a repeat performance soon and I will post pictures and recipes at that time.)

The recipe is from Alice Waters. I have had the pleasure of dining at Chez Panisse with dear friends a few years ago. It is sincerely one of the food highlights of my life. We were in San Francisco to celebrate with our friends who were getting married the next day. While at the restaurant, the bride bought two copies of Waters' "The Art of Simple Food" and graciously gave me one. About six months later, Ms. Waters was the guest speaker at a nearby university event and myself and a couple of friends were lucky enough to be seated right near her. She said many wonderful things that evening but one phrase in particular stuck with me: "We do not understand the cost of cheap food."

I have made this recipe a couple of times. It is originally written for strawberry ice cream but I have made it with the blackberries pictured below and another time with raspberries. I love all her suggestions to use different fruits when in season (doesn't pear ice cream sound amazing?) For more ice cream/sorbet recipes please see here, here, and here.

blackberry ice cream

3 egg yolks
3/4 cup half and half
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 pints blackberries
1/4 cup sugar
couple drops of vanilla extract
pinch of salt

1) In a small bowl whisk briefly, just enough to break up, 3 yolks.

2) Measure into a heavy-bottomed pot: 3/4 cup half and half, 1/2 cup sugar.

3) Set a strainer over a heat proof bowl. Heat the half and half over medium heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. When hot, whisk a little of the hot half and half into the egg yolks and then whisk the warmed yolks into the hot mixture (this step is important to help avoid cooked egg yolks).

4) Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and coats the back of the spoon. Do not let it boil. Remove from the heat and quickly strain. Add 3/4 cup heavy cream. Cover mixture and chill.

5) Wash and dry 1 1/2 pints blackberries. Warm the berries on low heat with 1/4 cup sugar until they just begin to release their juices. Puree in a food processor and strain the puree to remove the seeds. Add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, if needed.

6) Add the berry puree to the cold cream mixture and flavor with a couple drops of vanilla extract and a pinch of salt.

7) Chill thoroughly, and freeze in an ice-cream machine according to the manufacturers instructions.

* For heightened flavor, add 1 or 2 teaspoons kirsch (cherry eau-de-vie) at the same time as the vanilla.
* For strawberry ice cream: wash, dry and hull 1 1/2 pints strawberries. Mash with a potato masher or puree in a food mill. Stir in 1/4 cup sugar. Let the strawberries macerate in their own juices, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has melted.
* Puree 1 1/2 pints raspberries, mulberries, or other soft berries, and strain the puree to remove the seeds. Use in place of the blackberries. With the exception of raspberries, the berries should be warmed until they just begin to release their juices before pureeing. Add a squeeze of lemon juice, if needed.
* Substitute 1 1/2 cups mashed peeled peaches or nectarines.
* Substitute 1/12 cups plum or pear puree. Before pureeing sliced plums or pears, heat them with with sugar and a bit of water until soft.
*This recipe will work without the egg yolks: the ice cream will be lighter and the texture will be grainier and less creamy.

Monday, February 20, 2012

gwyneth's favorite granola

What is there to say except I really love homemade granola?

My mom is an elementary school teacher (shout out to public school teachers) and at holiday time it was always fun to see her "teacher presents" from students. One year she brought home a fabulous little tub of homemade granola. I was completely amazed by its nutty sweet crunch. When I asked my mom who made it, she named the source and described her as being an amazing cook. This planted in my childhood mind the idea that if I could someday make my own granola, I too would be a very skilled cook. Thus, I have pursued elusive homemade granola perfection.

Fast forward 25 years and I have made some bummer batches of granola. Oddly enough, they regularly turn out oily (how does oatmeal turn out oily?!) When I came across the recipe for granola in Gwyneth Paltrow's cookbook "My Father's Daughter", I was jazzed. I connect with her food style: fresh flavors, mainly vegetable driven, classic food. I love her stories of food memories with her family. I too connect with my father through shared meals and time spent together in the kitchen. (If you are not already, may I suggest signing up for her weekly newsletter, Goop? It is filled with lovely inspiration and a highlight to my Thursday mornings.) Her recipe includes brilliant nutty combination of pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and almonds. I also really love that the sweetness is from maple syrup and agave nectar.

I had never told my husband the story of my granola achievement goals but when I made him this granola, he gobbled up bowl for dessert and proclaimed "You really are a domestic goddess- you can make your own granola!" I wanted to marry him all over again.

Gwyneth Paltrow's favorite granola

2 cups whole rolled oats (not instant and not steel-cut)
1/2 cup raw, whole almonds (in the Hibbard house we cut this back to 1/4 cup)
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/2  teaspoon garam masala (I currently do not have any in the house and substitute 1/4 tsp cardamom)
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon fine salt
1/2 cup real vermont maple syrup
3 tablespoons light agave nectar or brown rice syrup
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup dried cranberries, roughly chopped (I leave this out altogether)

1) Preheat the oven to 350. Stir together the oats, almonds, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, spices and salt in  a large bowl.

2) Combine the maple syrup, agave, and vegetable oil in a small bowl and then mix with the dry ingredients.

3) Spread the granola out on a nonstick sheet pan or a regular sheet pan covered with parchment paper and coated with a little vegetable oil.

4) Bake for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until evenly browned. If you like your granola in clumps, remove the pan from the oven and push the granola so it's about 1/3-inch thick, letting it cool completely and then breaking it apart into small pieces. If you like your granola loose, simply spread it out in the pan and let it cool. Either way, combine the cooled granola with the cranberries. It keeps well for 2-3 months in an airtight container. (A batch could never last that long in our house. We like it as a breakfast topping for greek yogurt on busy weekdays and with milk for dessert on quiet evenings.)