Sunday, June 22, 2014

Matzah Balls

In the past, I used the matzah ball recipe lovingly handed down to me from my grandmother.

I used a mix. Two eggs, two tablespoons of oil, slice open the envelope of meal.

Don't judge! Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as a Fiddler on the Roof.

I did try several times to make matzah balls from scratch, but they always turned out terrible. Which is probably why my Bubbe relied on that trusty box from Manischewitz.

I have two theories on this.
  1. The Streitz-Manischewitz Conspiracy: All the recipes were designed to failed spectacularly. They were just trying to ensure our perpetual dependence on the boxed mix.
  2. Life Was Hard in the Old Country: The recipes are actually trying to make dense golfballs, replicating the hard matzah balls our foremothers made in Eastern Europe.
I will admit to a third possibility: I am just incompetent. 

This year, I wound up with six pounds of matzah meal left after Passover. I used it as breading for chicken, but that tasted like sawdust. So, I've been making a lot of matzah balls golfballs. I tried several recipes, and Claudia Roden's was the worst! Which I wouldn't mention, except she so clearly disdains Ashkenazi cooking. Anyway...

What worked for me was somewhere in the neighborhood of Ina Garten's recipe. Hers called for schmaltz, and if you're going to make it, I've got a tub of the stuff in the back of my fridge and you are welcome to it! That s*** is never getting eaten. But I used canola oil, and made some other changes, and these were even better than the mix. Go know!

Matzah Balls
4 large eggs, separated
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup fresh parsley minced (optional)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons matzah meal

Beat the egg whites stiff in a medium-sized bowl. In a larger bowl, whisk together yolks, water, oil, parsley and salt. Stir matzah meal into yolk mixture, then fold in the whites. Dump it all back in the smaller bowl to save space, then refrigerate for at least two hours so that it firms up.

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil, and lay a piece of wax paper on the counter next to it. Scoop the matzah ball batter in tablespoon-sized blobs onto the wax paper. With wet hands, roll them into balls and drop them into the boiling water. Reduce to a simmer, cover, and simmer for 90 minutes, until they are quite tender.

Leave the matzah balls in the hot water until you are ready to serve them in hot chicken or vegetable soup. Garnish with dill or parsley, if that's how your family does it. (Sometimes I get the stink-eye for putting green stuff in ours.)

If you are making your matzah balls ahead or storing leftovers, save a little of the cooking water and refrigerate them in it. Never reheat matzah balls by warming them in the chicken soup, or you'll end up with cloudy soup and misshapen dumplings.

They say that chicken soup is good for what ails you, and I believe them. Gezuntz!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Have you tried these? It's the new craze! All the kids are doing it.

Okay, I know you know how to make chocolate chip cookies. You've been making the old, reliable recipe on the back of the yellow bag of chips since you were a kid. Yeah, me, too. (Do you think the original 1938 tollhouse cookies called for 12 ounces of chocolate? I have my doubts.)

I've tried dozens of  "Ultimate" chocolate chip cookie recipes. Most of them seem like an exercise in cramming more fat and sugar into something that was pretty tasty in the first place. How many sticks of butter can a batch of cookies hold without turning into a puddle? A lot. Should you brown the butter? Umm, no. Can you improve dessert by adding more fiber? Gag.

My go-to formula is adapted from Jacques Torres' recipe published in the New York Times. It made me realize that the key was in the technique, not the ingredients. Namely, you have to
  1. Let the dough sit in the fridge for a day to develop a malt-y flavor;
  2. Freeze the dough in pre-formed balls;
  3. Bake the cookies while the dough is still frozen; and
  4. Take out the cookies when they are still wet in the cracks, i.e. grossly undercooked.
This requires you to plan ahead by two days, but there it is. On the flip side, you can store the frozen dough balls and pull out a couple any time you want warm cookies. 

I always make these for teacher gifts at the end of the year. Pretty, no?

Chocolate Chip Cookies
2 1/2 sticks softened butter (285g)
1 1/4 cups brown sugar (280g)
1 cup granulate sugar (195g)
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon table salt
3 1/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (480g)
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 3/4 cups chocolate chips (310g)

With the mixer's paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides and beat in the eggs, then the vanilla and salt. On low speed, mix in the dry ingredients. Stir the chocolate chips in by hand to avoid them getting broken. 

Cover the dough and refrigerate it for at least 24 hours to develop the flavor. It helps to take the dough out of the fridge to soften up an hour before you plan to scoop it. If you forget, well, you'll get a workout. 

Portioning out cookies is much faster with a cookie scoop or disher. (Also, all the cookies are the size - TG!) For large cookies, I use a #20, which holds 3 tablespoons, or sometimes a #40 at 1 1/2 tablespoons. The #20 makes a giant cookie that your grandmother would likely have disapproved of, around 4 inches in diameter. Your kids will suffer no such scruple.

Guess which one he chose?

Line a tray with waxed paper and scoop out the dough. You can squeeze the whole batch onto one tray, since you won't be baking them on it. Freeze solid, and then either bag them up for baking when you get around to it, or place them five inches apart on a parchment lined baking sheet. (Yes, I know this recipe takes two days. Do you want chewy cookies or not?)

Bake at 325 until the edges just start to brown and they are still wet in the cracks. Approximately 18 minutes for giant cookies, 12 for normal-sized. Remove from the oven and rest on the pan for three minutes before cooling completely on a rack. Makes 24, or 48.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Brown Butter Cake wtih Butterscotch Frosting

Tomorrow is Shavuot, a Jewish holiday where we celebrate the gift of the Torah. For reasons not entirely clear, tradition holds that we must eat dairy on Shavuot. Which is a strange custom for a people who are largely lactose-intolerant, but you gotta do what you gotta do.

In the olden days, people ate cheese blintzes on Shavuot and considered it a treat. But that tradition seems to have gone the way of people who are excited for chopped liver. Nowadays, many Jews eat cheesecake on Shavuot. But I've been working on this butterscotch cake for a while, and it is dairy-licious. So, for a new Shavuot tradition, try Brown Butter Butterscotch Frosting. And take a Lactaid first!

Butterscotch Sauce
1/3 cup butter (90g)
1 packed cup brown sugar (225g)
1 cup heavy cream (240ml)
1 tablespoon whisky (15g)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract (7g)
pinch of kosher salt

Brown Butter Cake
1 cup milk (240ml)
4 tablespoons butter (60g)
4 eggs
2 cups sugar (400g)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract (10g)
2 cups all-purpose flour (190g)
2 teaspoons baking powder (10g)
1/4 teaspoon table salt

Butterscotch Frosting
1 cup butterscotch sauce
1 1/2 cups cold whipping cream (360ml)

Chocolate Butterscotch Balls (optional)
Sliced almonds (optional)

For the Butterscotch Sauce:
Over medium heat, melt the butter in a heavy saucepan. Whisk in the brown sugar and cook for several minutes, stirring occasionally. When the mixture begins to pull together like taffy, whisk in 1/4 cup of the cream. Add remaining cream, and bring back to a simmer for another 8-10 minutes, until the mixture is thicker and slightly darkened. Remove from the burner and let the sauce sit for ten minutes to cool. Then add the vanilla, salt and whiskey. Refrigerate until completely cold before using in the frosting.

For the Brown Butter Cake:
Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat, then continue cooking for about five more minutes. First it will foam, then splutter a bit, then the milk solids will cook out into little brown dots. Before the dots get black, add the milk and heat it until it's almost but not quite boiling. While you're seeing to the milk, beat eggs in the mixer with the whisk attachment on high for two minutes, then add sugar and beat for another two minutes.

Decant the hot milk and butter back in the measuring cup and add the vanilla to it. (Or pour it directly from the pan, and slop half of it down the side of the bowl - up to you.) With the mixer running on low, slowly pour the milk into the eggs. Kick it up the speed a bit to fully incorporate. Whisk salt and baking powder into the flour, then gently beat them into the batter. Use baking spray to grease two 8- or 9-inch pans, or three of the 7-inchers that are the skinny jeans of baking blogs. (Peer pressure made me do it.) Bake at 350 (325 convection) for 20-30 minutes, depending on your pan configuration.

For the Butterscotch Whipped Cream Frosting:
Beat cold butterscotch and cream together for several minutes until thick but not lumpy. This stuff is divine, and you may have a fair amount leftover. Try not to eat it all immediately with a spoon, especially if you are baking for Shavuot, because dairy is probably not your friend!

Use a serrated knife to level your cakes - I always regret skipping this step! Line the edges of your cake plate with waxed paper, and . . .

Nope. Not going to tell you about how the frosting goes between the layers. I feel confident that you've eaten a cake before! I will say that you can smooth out the sides and top by dipping your offset spatula into a glass of hot water, quickly drying it off on a towel, and then running it over the frosting. Rinse and repeat until your OCD impulses dissipate.

You can decorate with almonds or candies. Or just leave it plain and drizzle with the leftover butterscotch sauce. A spiral design is also cool.

Cake adapted from The New Basics, by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins.
Frosting adapted from Vintage Cakes by Julie Richardson.

Vanilla Bean Tea Cakes

This week I baked two cakes and four dozen cupcakes. There's a lot of birthday/bakesale/piano recital going on around here.

Here's one I made for my daughter's birthday. Cute, huh?

But sometimes even I need to take a break from cake. So, I figured I'd try these cookies from the Cookies and Cups blog. Love them! Easy enough for a kid to make himself, and not overpoweringly sweet.

I tweaked the recipe a bit for my own palette. Also, I cannot be bothered to scrape a vanilla bean (or pay for it) when I'm only making cookies to feed the kids after school. Vanilla Bean Paste is a slurry of seeds and extract available in many grocery stores, and it's perfect for such a simple cookie.

Vanilla Bean Tea Cookies
2 sticks butter, softened (230g)
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar (180g)
1 t vanilla bean paste (or just use 1 teaspoon of extract)
1/8 teaspoon table salt
2 eggs
2 teaspoons baking powder (10g)
3 cups cake flour (360g)

3-5 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoons vanilla paste (or 1 teaspoon extract)
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar (300g)

In an electric mixer on medium speed, cream butter and powdered sugar for two minutes, then beat in eggs, vanilla and salt. On low speed, incorporate flour and baking powder. Scoop out tablespoon-sized balls onto a wax paper tray, then refrigerate for half an hour. Roll the balls smooth in your palms, then chill for another two hours. Bake on a parchment-lined baking sheet at 350 (325 convection) for 12-14 minutes, until one or two just starts to brown on the edges. Rest the baking sheet on the counter for five minutes, then move to rack to cool completely.

Put the rack of cooled cookies back onto the baking sheet to catch the drips. Whisk together 3 tablespoons of milk, vanilla paste, and powdered sugar. Add just enough additional milk to reach the texture of cold honey. Use a spoon to drizzle tablespoons of glaze over each cookie.

If you have time, put the cookies in the fridge for a couple of hours to harden the glaze.