Friday, December 30, 2011

To Build a Better Buche

It's funny, isn't it, how the year silently slips by on a kitten's velvet paws. I feel as if nothing happened at all in 2011, but that's wrong. This year marked the biggest changes in my life so far. My life's opening chapter, a peaceful story on which I will always look with great happiness, has concluded. I hope the next chapter will be just as warm.

Each year at Christmas, we make a buche de noel. This year, Zoe and I wanted to do something different. Even though chocolate is my favorite food, we deserted the normal chocolate dessert and went with a chocolate-free recipe. It turns out that sometimes, to build a better buche, you have to abandon what you're familiar with. In this cake, the soft gingerbread is rolled with whipped cream and coated in a sweet spiced frosting. This yule log is a lot of work, but it's worth every bite. 

(And the mushroom recipe will follow shortly!)

Gingerbread Buche de Noel
Adapted from Bon Apetit and

3 large eggs, separated
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1/2 cup molasses
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
2 tablespoons powdered sugar

Whipped cream filling:
3/4 cup chilled whipping cream
1/4 c sour cream
4 oz marscapone (optional)
1/4 c powdered sugar
1 T brandy
1 t vanilla

Brown Sugar Spice Frosting:
3/4 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
1/2 cup whipping cream
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3 cups powdered sugar
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon ground allspice

To prepare cake:
Preheat oven to 350. Line a greased 15 x 10 inch jellyroll pan with waxed paper; grease and flour wax paper. Set pan aside.

Beat egg yolks at high speed with an electric mixer until thick and pale. Gradually add butter and molasses, beating until blended. In another bowl, beat egg whites at high speed until foamy. Gradually add sugar, 1 T at a time, beating until stiff peaks form and sugar dissolves (2-4 minutes). Fold egg whites into yolk mixture.

Combine flour and next 6 ingredients; gradually fold flour mixture into egg mixture. Spread batter evenly into prepared pan. 

Bake at 350 for 8-10 minutes or just until cake springs back when touched lightly.

While the cake is baking, sift a whole ton of powdered sugar in a 15 x 10 inch rectangle on a cloth towel. When cake is done, immediately loosen from sides of pan, and turn out onto sugared towel. Peel off the wax paper. Roll up cake and towel together; cool completly on a wire rack, seam side down.

For whipped cream:
Beat all ingredients in medium bowl until stiff peaks form. Unroll cake. Spread with filling. Roll up cake only (not towel). Place seam side down on long platter and refrigerate.

For frosting:
Stir brown sugar and cream in heavy small saucepan over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves and mixture simmers. Place in freezer until cold, about 15 minutes. Beat butter, powdered sugar and spices in medium bowl until fluffy. Beat in cold brown sugar mixture. Spread frosting all over cake. Chill until set, at least 2 hours. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover; chill.)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas Colors

My family has many holiday traditions (like decorating a Christmas tree and then viewing it through goggles that turn the lights into Hanukkah-appropriate six-pointed stars), but for some reason, a fancy Christmas dinner is not really one of them. When Zoe and I decided to plan an elaborate Christmas dinner this year, we were stumped as to what people usually eat for Christmas. A roast? Or maybe a turkey? Is that only for Thanksgiving? Perhaps a ham? Must Christmas dinner involve large portions of meat? 

In the end, we decided to skip meat altogether and instead derive festiveness from a red and green color scheme. We brainstormed red and green foods, then went to the winter farmer's market to find veggies for our harvest feast. It's no surprise that there are tons of red and green dishes, like kale with cranberries or tomatoes, for which we just didn't have space or time. Here is our menu, inspired by the red and green ornaments on our sparkling tree.

 salad with red striped beets and watermelon radishes
 swiss chard tart (see recipe below)
 baked tomatoes and zucchini 
 kiwi tart with raspberry coulis (see recipe below)

Swiss chard tart
Adapted (barely) from Bistro Cooking by Patricia Wells

1 cup flour
1/4 t salt
1/4 c olive oil
1 large bunch swiss chard (red, not rainbow, to be more festive)
1 small onion
3 eggs
1 cup grated parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 400. 

Combine the flour and salt in a medium bowl. Stir in 1/4 c water and then the oil, mixing until well blended. Knead briefly. Press the dough into tart pan (a 10 inch tart pan for a thicker pie or a 14 inch pan for a thinner one). The dough will be weirdly wet, but it's fine.

Wash and dry the swiss chard. Cut out the center stem. Dice the stems, the leaves, and the onion, keeping the leaves separate from the stems. 

In a large skillet, heat some olive oil. Cook the onions and stems together until the onions are translucent. Remove the onions and stems and place into a small bowl. Next, put the green leaves into the hot pan and cook until it's all wilted and most of the liquid has evaporated. 

Combine the eggs and cheese in a medium bowl and mix well. Add the chard leaves. Season with salt and pepper to taste and mix well. 

Pour the green egg mixture into the pastry shell (yes, I know the pastry hasn't been cooked yet). Spoon the red stems and onions onto the leaves in a pretty pattern. 

Bake for about 40 minutes or until the crust is golden and the chard mixture is firm and browned. 

Kiwi tart with raspberry coulis
Adapted from How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman
A perfect use for ripe Thanksgiving kiwis. The coulis is just for a red contrast to fit our theme, so you really don't need to use it. And this basic tart shell and pastry cream would be a delightful background for any soft fruit that doesn't need to cook, especially strawberries or raspberries. 

1 tart crust, baked and cooled
2/3 c sugar
2 T all-purpose flour
2 T cornstarch
pinch salt
2 eggs
2 cups light cream, half-and-half, or whole milk (I used 1/2 c heavy cream and 1 1/2 c skim milk)
2 t vanilla extract
2 T unsalted butter, softened
kiwis (6 to 9 probably, though more is better)
1/2 c raspberry or strawberry jam

In a small saucepan, combine the sugar, flour, cornstarch, and salt. Beat together well the eggs and cream in a small bowl. Stir the cream mixture into the sugar mixture over medium heat. Whisk to eliminate lumps and stir almost constantly for 10 minutes until the mixture boils and thickens. Continue to cook until the mixture coats the back of a spoon and when you draw your finger through the mixture, the resulting line holds its shape. Stir in the butter and vanilla. Cool the pastry cream for a few minutes. If you want to make the pastry cream in advance, refrigerate topped directly with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming. 

To assemble the tart, spread a layer of pastry cream on the bottom of the tart shell (you might not use all of the pastry cream). Slice the kiwis very thinly and arrange them over the tart.

For a teeny taste of raspberry coulis, put a few spoonfuls of jam in a strainer and mix around to remove the seeds. Spoon the smooth pink jam into a ziplock and cut off the corner. Drizzle the coulis over the kiwis and serve!

Rich tart crust

1 1/2 c flour
1/2 t salt
2 T sugar
10 T cold unsalted butter
2 egg yolks
3 T ice water

Combine the flour, salt, and sugar (in a food processor if you have one). Add the butter and process with a food processor, your fingers, or a pastry blender. Blend until the mixture looks like cornmeal, then add the egg yolks and process another few seconds. Sprinkle 3 T of water over the mixture and gradually gather the mixture into a ball. Wrap the ball in plastic, flatten it into a disk, and refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes (or freeze for 10).
Roll out the dough between two sheets of plastic wrap or on a countertop with a lot of flour. When the diameter of the dough is about 2 inches more than the diameter of the tart pan, move the dough into the tart pan. Press firmly into the bottom and sides of pan and patch holes with the scraps. 

Prick the crust with a fork. Line with tin foil and weight the bottom with dried beans or pie weights (or weigh the crust down with a heavy glass pie pan sitting on top of the dough). Bake the crust for 12 minutes at 425. Remove the crust from the oven, remove the weight and foil, then bake another 10 to 15 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown. Let the crust cool on a rack. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Christmas Spirit

I know Thanksgiving is the holiday officially dedicated to being thankful, but it seems to me that Christmas is a better occasion for giving thanks. Over the past few days while studying for my finals, I've been able to reflect on my very first collegiate semester. I've discovered what I need to change and what I love as is. For an example of what I adore, see the picture up top. My plants on the windowsill, my Christmas lights sparkling on the red tinsel, my New Yorker covers with the NYC address label on them... How cute is my room? 

And even cuter are the friends I've made. I'm never going to forget how happy last night was, just sitting on the floor of my room with my three closest friends. Thank you Asia, Aria, and Anna, for helping me create new Christmas traditions in my new home.

These absurdly gorgeous roquefort tarts with arugula, grapes, and pomegranate were made by Matt for a Christmas get together with the e-board of Culinary Society. Matt has impeccable taste. And someone else brought a coconut flan to die for. Too bad the recipe is a secret.

(And Mama, if you're reading this, I promise that I study too, not just eat and sit on my floor. Although I do an awful lot of sitting on my floor eating with friends.)

I'm going to miss this scene over the next month. My school is beautiful. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Finals, so soon?

I hope the rest of my life doesn't go by as fast as this semester did, or the next time I blink I'll be dead.

It was really a wonderful semester, though. This weekend was my second orchestra concert. Between the two concerts, I had ten relatives come from Ohio, Vermont, New York, Massachusetts, and New Jersey to make up my cheering section. I felt so loved. Thank you for coming to my concert!

(P.S. Have I mentioned that I'm eating gluten again? And lactose, too. I think my stomach was just angry at me for dorm food in general, not wheat and dairy specifically.)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

An Excellent Holiday

Stuffing, turkey, sweet potato, applesauce, cranberry sauce... 
all on top of Doris's amazing homemade bread. Can it get any better?

Sam's sandwich creation was inspired by the gods. Just look at this drama shot.