Thursday, November 26, 2009

Sweet Potato pie

I'm always in charge of desserts on Thanksgiving in my family. Last week, I asked my mom to get some ingredients for a sweet potato pie, and she was utterly shocked because my dad had been talking about making sweet potato pie, too. (This is shocking because we usually go with apple or pumpkin in my family. I don't think we've ever had sweet potato pie.) He even got a recipe from one of his coworkers in the bakery department (my dad works at Whole Foods).

So there you go. Sweet potato pie it is.

I used the recipe my dad gave me -- which is a printout, but I have no idea where it came from. They were using it at Whole Foods, though, and it looked fairly accurate, judging from how my pumpkin pie normally goes. The only thing I changed was that I took out the shot of brandy in the recipe.

The recipe called for 1 1/2 cups of sweet potato, and I think 3 medium sweet potatoes were plenty.

Yes, I'm using a potato masher. Call me a traditionalist.

Because I am impatient, I actually mashed the potatoes while they were still hot. So, while those were cooling, I rolled out a pie crust dough that I prepared earlier.

I think I've already told you all this trick before, but a good way to transfer the crust into the pie plate is to wrap it loosely around the rolling pin, and then lift, and unroll it on top of the pie plate.

Trim and scallop the edges, and then pop that back in the fridge while you prepare the rest of the filling. (If you're so inclined, save the scraps of dough, and roll them out again. Cut out shapes to put on top of the pie! Makes an otherwise uninteresting-looking pie more fun. Don't forget to chill those cutouts, too.)

By now, the potatoes should be cool enough, and the recipe is super easy. (Also, the recipe calls for an electric beater, but it came out just fine whisking by hand. Yep, me = traditionalist. Or lazy. I hate getting out the beater and washing the pieces.)

Pour out the filling and place the cutouts on top as you like.

This pie could not have been accomplished without my dad (who gave me the recipe) and my mom (who made the leaf cutouts). I have little talent for such things, but my mom used to be an art major. If it were me, I would have used a cookie cutter or something (regardless of whether or not we had any leaf cookie cutters - if it were up to me, we'd probably have had little Christmas trees on top). Anyway. At the end of the day, you get something like this:

Happy Thanksgiving!

Pie Crust

Recipe adapted from (Jan Bittner)

½ cup vegetable shortening
1½ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
½ cup cold water

Mix shortening, flour, sugar, and salt together with a fork or a pastry blender until very crumbly. Add water a tablespoon at a time and mix lightly with a fork. Only add just enough until the dough starts to hold together (you probably will not need the entire half cup).

Butter a pie plate. Roll gently on a floured pastry cloth to about an inch larger than pie plate.

Roll dough carefully onto rolling pin, lift to pie plate, and unroll. Press into pan. For a single-crust pie, trim with a small knife to about 1/2 inch beyond rim. Fold up, and pinch so edge of pie is raised from rim.

Servings: 8
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Difficulty: Medium

Sweet Potato Pie

Recipe courtesy Whole Foods(?), adapted by me

1½ cups firmly packed mashed cooked sweet potatoes, room temperature
3 eggs, room temperature
½ cup white sugar
1/3 cup milk, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon salt

Prepare pie pan, and place in refrigerator, covered in plastic wrap, while preparing the filling. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Place mashed sweet potatoes in a large bowl. Using an electric mixer on low speed, add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the sugar, milk, vanilla, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and salt. Beat until well blended.

Pour the filling into the pie shell (and, if you have them, arrange any pastry cutouts on top). Set the pan on a baking sheet.

Bake on the bottom oven rack until a knife inserted 1 inch into the center comes out clean, about 50-60 minutes. If the pie crust browns too quickly, loosely drape some aluminum foil over it. Do not overbake.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Servings: 8
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 50-60 minutes
Difficulty: Easy

Monday, November 23, 2009


Kugelhopf is a German bread/cake that reminds me a bit of Italian panettone, but without that sourdough taste that panettone has. It's a very soft and airy raisin bread, basically.

I didn't have a Kugelhopf pan, so a Bundt had to do.

The mise en place.

It's a very... um, sticky! dough. Because this is bread, with yeast, you still need to knead it, but all the kneading happens with a wooden spoon. There's quite a lot of pull on the dough, so that's not as easy as it sounds. (Of course, it's much easier if you have a stand mixer with a dough hook. But for those of us who cannot afford such luxuries... it's all elbow grease.)

This recipe is kinda funny because you have to keep slapping down the dough after it rises. To keep it from over-poofing, I suppose. I mean, overall, it's still rising, but I guess you need to keep it in check somewhat. Mid-poof:

Maybe there's a reason why people put this bread into a Kugelhopf pan (it looks like a tall turban). Somehow the Bundt pan made this a little anti-climactic. It's too short! But still tasty, indeed. After it's all baked and cooled:

See below for the recipe!


Recipe courtesy Dorie Greenspan

1/3 cup moist, plump raisins
Scant 1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/3 cup just-warm-to-the-touch whole milk
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
3 tablespoons sugar
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter
Sugar, for dusting
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

Bring a little water to a boil in a small saucepan and toss in raisins. Turn off the heat and let steep for 2 minutes, then drain the raisins and pat them dry.

Put the yeast and milk in the bowl of a stand mixer and, using a wooden spoon, stir until the yeast is dissolved. Add the flour and salt and stir just to moisten the flour.

In a small bowl, beat the eggs and yolk together lightly with a fork. Fit the mixer with the dough hook, if you have one, and, working on low speed, pour in the beaten eggs, mixing until they are incorporated. Add the sugar, increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the dough comes together and smooths out a little, about 5 minutes. Reduce the mixer speed to medium and add the butter in 4 to 6 additions, squeezing each piece to soften it before adding it and beating until each one is almost fully incorporated before adding the next.

When the butter is blended in, the dough will be very soft. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and beat, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed, until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl and climbs up the hook, about 10 minutes. Remove the bowl from the mixer, and stir in the raisins.

Scrape the dough into a clean bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until nearly doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours.

Deflate the dough by lifting it up around the edges and letting it fall back into the bowl. Cover the bowl again and put it in the refrigerator. Slap the dough down in the bowl every 30 minutes until it stops rising, about 2 hours. Then, if you have the time, let the dough rest in the refrigerator overnight.

Generously butter a 9-inch Kugelhopf mold (8- to 9-cup capacity) and put the chilled dough in the pan. Cover the pan lightly with buttered parchment or wax paper and let the dough rise in a warm place until it comes almost to the top of the mold, 2 to 3 hours.

When the dough has almost fully risen, center a rack in the oven and preheat to 375 degrees F.

Remove the paper and bake the Kugelhopf for 10 minutes. Cover the pan lightly with a foil tent and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes, or until the Kugelhopf is golden brown and has risen to the top of the pan.

Meanwhile, line a baking sheet with foil and place a rack over it. Remove the kugelhopf from the oven and unmold it on the rack.

To soak the cake: Melt the butter and gently brush the hot cake with it, allow the butter to soak into the cake. Sprinkle the hot cake lightly with sugar and cool it to room temperature. Right before serving, dust the Kugelhopf with confectioners' sugar.

Yield: 8 servings
Prep Time: (including rests) 6 hours
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Difficulty: Medium

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Flutterby bento (20)

Another one I never posted. This time, it comes with a recipe!

Pretty simple lunch - I only used one partition this time. It just goes to show that good bentos are all about putting together something that you want to eat and enjoy. On the left is creamy farfalle pasta (multicolored, flavored with tomatoes, spinach, and beets, I think) with mushrooms and asparagus. And on the right are some potstickers that I had leftover from before (the frozen kind, I don't have the time these days to make dumplings from scratch...).

Did you know "farfalle" is Italian for butterflies? Well, now you do.

The farfalle was great by the way. If you're getting to the point of late spring or early summer, good way to use up some asparagus is with this recipe.

Creamy Farfalle with Cremini and Asparagus

Recipe courtesy Giada de Laurentiis

1 pound farfalle pasta
3 tablespoons butter
1 pound cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 pound thin asparagus, trimmed, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup mascarpone cheese
pinch of grated nutmeg
¾ cup walnuts, toasted
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the farfalle and cook until al dente, stirring occasionally, about 12 minutes. Drain, reserving 1 cup of pasta water.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and sauté until tender and most of the juices have evaporated, about 5 minutes.

Add the asparagus and sauté until the asparagus is crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Add the farfalle. Stir in the mascarpone and nutmeg and toss until the cheese coats the pasta, adding the reserved cooking liquid 1/4 cup at a time to moisten. Stir in ¾ cup of walnuts.

Season the pasta, to taste, with salt and pepper. Mound the pasta in a large bowl. Sprinkle with the Parmesan and remaining 1/4 cup of walnuts. Serve.

Yield: 6-8 servings
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Difficulty: Easy

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Jam Thumbprint cookies

Shortbread cookie with toasted coconut and a strawberry jam center.

These cookies are probably my favorite ones to make because I've been making them for so long. It was one of the first cookie recipes I tried, and did well, enough so that it sparked my interest into expanding into other genres of baked goods (aside from cake and pie, I mean). I also liked to make them around the holidays to give out as gifts, so they have a holiday connotation in my mind, too.

This is a shortbread cookie. Which means. Yes. Butter.

If you do the math, each cookie only has like a 1/2 tablespoon of butter, though.

I like to make this dough in a large Tupperware container, because it needs to be chilled for 30 minutes before making the cookies. So pop on the lid, and you are good to go.

(FYI - I don't think the chilling is super necessary. I've done it both ways, and the cookies are no different. Also, it might even be better to not chill because the dough is crumbly and it's actually easier to handle when it's warmer and the butter is softer.)

The fun part! The cookie-making. For efficiency's sake, I like to do all the cookies at once, rather than rolling, smashing, and jamming each cookie one by one.

Take a golf-ball sized chunk of dough, and dip about half of it in egg wash. Then press that half into some sweetened coconut.

I do this for all the cookies first, and line them up on a baking sheet.

Huh, in that form, they look like a different dessert, don't they? (Bonus points if you guess which.) Next is pushing your thumb in. It doesn't matter if you use your thumb or not -- keep in mind the dough is pretty crumbly so you want to make sure the edges don't split too much when you do this.

Then spoon in the jam. Back in the day, when I had the money to do this, I'd do blackberry, strawberry, and apricot -- and there'd be a whole spectrum of different cookies to choose from. Today, it's just strawberry.

Out of the oven.

Mmmm. Like little circles of happiness.

Jam Thumbprint Cookies

Recipe adapted from Ina Garten

3 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash
7 ounces sweetened flaked coconut
fruit jam

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Cream together the butter and sugar until they are just combined and then add the vanilla. Separately, sift together the flour and salt. Add the flour mixture to the creamed butter and sugar. Mix until the dough starts to come together.

Dump on a floured board and roll together into a flat disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for 30 minutes.

Roll the dough into 1 1/4-inch balls. (If you have a scale they should each weigh 1 ounce.) Dip each ball into the egg wash and then roll it in coconut. Place the balls on an ungreased cookie sheet and press a light indentation into the top of each with your finger. Drop 1/4 teaspoon of jam into each indentation.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the coconut is a golden brown. Cool and serve.

Yield: about 30 cookies
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 20-25 minutes
Difficulty: Medium

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Nutella cupcakes

Yellow cake with Nutella (chocolate hazelnut) frosting, sprinkled with chopped toasted hazelnuts.

Ha! It's been months, I know. But that's what happens when you're a student -- the tide of busyiness ebbs and flows. Hopefully things will now settle down a bit and I can post some of the pictures I have saved that I have not yet posted. Starting with some cupcakes.

This particular cupcake is all about the frosting. The cake is nothing special, although it is admittedly difficult to achieve a nice yelllow cake that is soft (without becoming pound cake) and dense (without becoming cornbread).

Scooping the batter. Ice cream scoops are essential if you want to scoop batter with any efficiency and evenness (otherwise some cakes will burn while others are not yet done baking)!

Like I said, this is all about the frosting. Luckily the density of Nutella meshes well with frosting, although you're going to have to cut the butter down and add a bit more powdered sugar to get the liquid/dry ratio right. I would alternate adding powdered sugar and then Nutella, and be conservative with your additions, until it comes out how you like.

I was pleased! This ended up just the right consistency for a frosting that held its shape well.

And the glamor shot, after the hazelnuts were added on top. (Just toast the nuts in an ungreased skillet pan for a few minutes, until you can smell the oils starting to come out and see them start to brown a little.)

Nutella Cupcakes

Cake recipe adapted from Ina Garten, frosting recipe my own

3 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
5 extra-large eggs at room temperature
1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 cups flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup milk

1 ½ sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
¾ cup Nutella (or any hazelnut chocolate spread)
2 tablespoons milk
1 cup chopped toasted hazelnuts

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. With the mixer on low speed, add the eggs, 1 at a time, scraping down the bowl after each addition. Add the vanilla extract and mix well.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In 3 parts, alternately add the dry ingredients and the milk to the batter, beginning and ending with the dry. Mix until just combined.

Line a muffin pan with paper liners. Fill each liner to the top with batter. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool in the pan for 15 minutes. Remove to a baking rack and cool completely.

Meanwhile, make the frosting. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, on low speed, cream together butter and vanilla. Add the confectioners' sugar, 1 cup at a time, alternating with ¼ cup Nutella, and mix until smooth.

Frost the cooled cupcakes, sprinkle with hazelnuts, and serve.

Yield: about 18 cupcakes
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: about 30 minutes
Difficulty: Medium