Archive for the 'desserts' Category

weirdo cookies

Sunday, March 22nd, 2009

weirdo cookies

Sometimes I find myself itching to bake something. It usually happens over the weekend, thank the gods. When else would I have time to search the web for a good recipe for whatever I’m hankering for, prepare the ingredients (is there a law of nature which states that butter softens more slowly when you’re dying for a cookie?), get out the measuring cups and spoons, bowls, pan, whisk, follow the recipe, wildly diverge from the recipe, spill flour and sugar all over the kitchen counter, bake, cool, and finally, load the dishwasher, clean the counters and ponder mopping the floor. Believe me, just writing that ridiculous run-on sentence is nearly as exhausting as actually doing everything it describes.

Still, there’s something primally satisfying about the alchemy of baking. Think about it… a cookie is so much grander when you’ve made it yourself. Moreso when you follow the recipe only loosely, exchanging one ingredient for another, and adding in yet others. What happens when you leave out half the sugar? Replace it with honey? How about oat flour instead of wheat? Sometimes you wind up with a gloppy mess. Other times a tasty treat. You might create a Mona Lisa (OK, maybe Warhol’s soup can) or Frankenstein. It’s the definition of flying by the seat of your pants. Exhilarating. (Really!)

The main thing to remember is to keep the ratios more or less the same. If you remove a wet ingredient, replace the moisture you’ve lost. The same rule applies to dry ingredients.

These cookies are the fruits of a windy Sunday afternoon and a hankering for homemade chocolate chip cookies. I made two versions of this cookie, one with chocolate chips and the other with candied rangpur lime peel. As it turns out, I rather preferred the latter.

weirdo cookies

These cookies are loosely based on a gluten-free recipe from Elana’s Pantry. My goal was to make wheat-free chocolate chip cookies. I wound up with oat flour-cornmeal-cardamom-rangpur lime peel cookies. Pretty tasty ones too.

1 cup whole grain oat flour
1 cup almond flour made of blanched almonds
1/2 cup finely ground cornmeal
1 TBS light brown sugar or evaporated cane juice
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp ground cardamom

10 TBS melted butter
1 TBS vanilla extract
1/4 cup agave nectar
1 egg

a handful or two of candied rangpur lime or other citrus peel

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and line a baking sheet or pan with parchment paper.
  • In a large bowl, sift together the dry ingredients except the citrus peel.
  • In a smaller bowl, combine the wet ingredients.
  • Add the wet mixture into the dry ingredients in thirds. After adding a third of the wet ingredients, mix until almost absorbed. Repeat with the remaining thirds.
  • Add in the candied citrus peel and combine.
  • Drop the dough onto the baking sheet by the tablespoon and flatten each one.
  • Bake for 10-20 minutes. Ten minutes for a more tender cookie, twenty for a crisper one.

introducing the pawpaw

Thursday, October 4th, 2007

I don’t mean your grandfather from Mississippi. The pawpaw is a large berry that is native to North America, and is the only tropical fruit in its family that isn’t “confined to the tropics. ” I picked it up at the Temescal Farmers Market on Sunday morning. The pawpaw has a yellowish green skin that darkens to a muddy brown as it ripens. The farmer described its flavor as banana-like and custardy in texture. I’m not a fan of bananas, so I didn’t have any high hopes for the fruit.

I finally ate one today. Its skin was very dark, the color of an overripe banana. I carefully peeled it away, and the sweet scent of the flesh immediately hit my nose. I coaxed out the large, pebble-like black pits and cut the soft flesh into a bowl. I took a bite.

The pawpaw is one of the more peculiar fruits I’ve eaten. It has a soft, creamy flesh that is indeed reminiscent of custard. Its flavor is like burnt caramel with a hint of buttered popcorn. The slight bitter undertone rounds out the sweetness of the fruit and pleasantly lingers on the tongue. It’s like a vegan crème brulée!

Aside from eating it as is, I think pawpaws could be nice puréed into a pudding or sauce, served over something crunchy. Or it might be fun to eat them frozen. Chowhound has a post on the berry, including a list of ideas for pawpaw preparations. The Chowhound post also mentions that pawpaws change in flavor when stored above 40 degrees F for over two days. Frankly, I think I prefer them that way.

Lagier Ranch is currently selling pawpaws at San Francisco Bay Area farmers markets.

seasonal fruit with shuna

Tuesday, April 24th, 2007

I’ve been to a few of Shuna’s cooking classes, and they’ve all been fun and enriching. Shuna has an intuitive, visceral understanding of the foods she works with, which she attempts to convey to her students. More than just teaching how to make pavlova, Shuna teaches students why egg whites behave the way they do and how to tell when poached rhubarb is ready by the way it looks and sounds. A class with Shuna is always a full sensory experience—be ready to taste, smell, and touch ingredients. Similarly, the end of the class heralds a feast of all the sweets prepared during class, and then some.

Aside from its tasty end, my favorite part of Shuna’s classes is listening to her always fascinating discussions on fruit, eggs, sugar. Just the other day I found myself quoting some of Shuna’s strawberry facts to a friend visiting from abroad. It seems I learned a thing or two.

[Click the photo to watch the seasonal fruit class slideshow.]


Click here for my write-up of Shuna’s pie dough class.


Monday, April 9th, 2007

Not the kind you eat with syrup. These flapjacks are a different kind of culinary pleasure. Read more at Well Fed on the Town.

armenian tehina bread

Thursday, March 8th, 2007

Crisp and chewy, sweet with notes of sesame bitterness, Armenian tehina bread is probably unlike any bread you’ve ever eaten. This recipe caught my eye, leafing through the Saveur 100, which described the bread as a cross between halvah and a croissant. Naturally, I had to try it.

The process is a bit peculiar. The recipe begins as most breads do, with some yeast and flour, sugar and water, a little kneading, a bit of rising. Then the recipe veers off into strange territory. The next step is rolling out the dough, pizza style, and spreading it with copious amounts of tehina paste. Instead of mozzarell, you sprinkle the pie with sugar. Now your pizza pie becomes a doughnut as you poke a hole in its middle and gradually roll the edges of the hole into the pie. Finally, you get a circular rope of dough, plump with tehina and sugar. You cut the rope into segments, roll them into cinnamon buns, and flatten them. A spritz of water and into the oven. C’est tout.

The result is, well, homely—flattish browned discs leaking a bit of sugary tehina in spots. Odd appearances aside, these breads are wonderfully crunchy and chewy, especially when they’re still warm. Perfect with a glass of hot tea. I took them to a birthday party where they were devoured faster than the birthday cake. Careful whom you feed them to. By the end of the night I got two marriage proposals from perfect strangers.

armenian tahini bread
adapted from Saveur magazine

I halved the recipe and used natural cane sugar and organic, whole (dark) tehina. I’m curious as to whether the recipe is traditionally prepared with sugar or honey. A Veggie Venture includes an alternative (and less messy) method for filling and rolling the dough into ropes.

3 1/2 grams package active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups plus 1/2 tsp. sugar
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 TBSP extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cups well-stirred tahini (sesame seed paste)

  • Stir together yeast, 1/2 tsp sugar, and 1/4 cup warm water in a small bowl; set aside to let rest until frothy, 8–10 minutes.
  • Sift and stir flour, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl, then add yeast mixture, 1 TBSP oil, and 1/2 cup water; stir into a rough dough.
  • Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, 8–10 minutes. Nestle dough into a large bowl greased with remaining oil. Cover with plastic wrap; let sit in a warm spot until doubled in size, about 2 hours.
  • Preheat oven to 350°. Divide dough into 2 balls, cover with a towel, and let rest for 10 minutes.
  • Working on a lightly floured surface with 1 ball at a time, roll dough out into a 25″ circle (keep remaining dough covered). Gently spread half the tahini evenly over the dough and sprinkle with half the remaining sugar.
  • Make a 1″ hole in center of circle and begin rolling and stretching inner lip of dough hole toward outward edge of dough to create a large, rolled-up “doughnut”.
  • Cut doughnut into 3 equal ropes. Tightly coil each rope so that it resembles a cinnamon roll, then flatten each with your hand into a dough round on a lightly floured surface.
  • Roll out each round into a 7″ circle, then transfer the circles to parchment paper–lined baking sheets, keeping them spaced apart.
  • Let rest while you repeat the process with the remaining dough.
  • Mist each round of dough generously with water and bake until golden, about 20 minutes. Let cool on baking sheets.

Makes 6 rolls.

khoa, mawa, or khoya

Wednesday, January 17th, 2007

The mystery ingredient is khoa, also known as mawa or khoya. Khoa is made of milk (buffalo milk, traditionally), cooked for hours on a low flame until the liquids evaporate. The milk sugars caramelize and the proteins solidify. Think of it as a solid cake of dulce de leche without the sugar, or an unsalted gjetost. That’s pretty much what it tastes like too, almost cheese-like with a caramel flavor that is so subtly sweet as to not be sweet at all.

Khoa is the basis for many traditional Indian sweets, among them burfi, a treat similar to fudge. To make burfi, grate a cake of khoa into a large oiled wok or pot and add sugar and a pinch or two of ground cardamom. Cook until the sugar melts and the khoa solidifies again. Then remove the mixture from the heat and spread onto a greased tray. Decorate with ground pistachio nuts and the traditional edible silver leaves. Alternatively, you can mix in ground nuts just after removing the burfi from the heat. I mixed in ground almonds, and then sprinkled the top of my burfi with ground almonds as well. Cut the burfi into very small pieces, as a little bit can go a long way.

The result is an interesting take on caramelized desserts. The texture is distinctly fudge-like, but the flavor is a deep caramel, and very sweet from the added sugar. Cardamom offsets the sweetness somewhat, and adds another taste dimension that complements the nuts with its spiciness while underscoring the mellow burnt sugar flavor of the khoa.

I’m not sure I got the texture quite right, but all in all, these burfi are completely snackable. Perfect for a little something sweet after dinner. Or lunch. Or breakfast, with a mug of strong, hot coffee.

what is it?

Monday, January 15th, 2007

Can you guess what this is? It’s an ingredient for making sweets, and no, it isn’t funky looking brown sugar. Extra points if you can guess what it’s made of.

pie dough with the eggbeater

Sunday, November 19th, 2006

Pies are all about the crust, which is to say they’re all about the dough. Well, not really. At least half the fun is eating the gooey sweet fruit that fills the buttery cavern of your pie. But the best filling in the world won’t save a poor crust, turning an otherwise tasty pie into an abject failure. Knowing this, and with Thanksgiving just around the corner, I signed up for Shuna’s pie dough class in Berkeley. Let me tell you, having been to that class, I now recognize all the horrible errors I had previously thought were standard pie-making protocol.

For example:

  • Fancy, high-fat, European style butter isn’t necessarily better. If you do use fancy butter, cut back a bit on the amount you use (six ounces rather than eight is a rule of thumb).
  • Processing the dough until it forms a ball is a very bad idea. If your dough has formed a ball, your crust will be be tough.
  • Roll your dough from the middle outwards, not from the edge.
  • Once a crack, always a crack. If your dough starts cracking as you begin to roll, the cracks will stay and grow. To fix the crack, gently mush together the cracked dough back together with the blade of your hand.
  • Rotate pie dough frequently when rolling so as to avoid it sticking to the work surface.
  • Lightly rolled dough produces a light crust. A large, fairly heavy rolling pin is preferable, and easier to use. It requires less physical effort on your part, resulting in a flakier crust.
  • Use a whole lotta beans. When baking blind, fill the entire shell with beans.

These are just a few salient points. By touching the dough at various stages of processing, listening to it (a dough that makes lip-smacking noises is not only rude, it’s way too wet), tasting it blind-baked and non-blind baked, I began to see pie dough as its own unique creature. A professional pastry chef is a dough psychologist, gently coaxing the dough to wellbeing while working through its potential for multi-faceted neuroses. Warm pie dough is insecure, resulting in a melted, self-conscious crust. Over-working the dough results in an aggressive, tough pastry. A dough might look perfectly well-adjusted in the mixing bowl, but do anti-social bits of flour and butter lurk at the bottom?

The ingredients themselves have their own unique personalities. Flour must be aerated and weighed. Butter must be kept as cold as possible and chopped coarsely. Water must be absolutely ice cold. Understanding the behavior of each ingredient—and why it behaves the way it does—is just as important as understanding the whole. A pastry chef is both scientist and artist.

After all you learn about pie-making, Shuna’s pie is magic. How can flour, butter, sugar, and water produce such ethereal flakiness? And how do crunchy apples become sweet, buttery velvet in your mouth? To me it’s alchemy.

food destinations roundup

Friday, November 17th, 2006

The foodblogging event, Food Destinations #3: My Favorite Chocolate Shop, has officially closed. Emily of Chocolate in Context kindly hosted the event originated by maki, and posted a roundup of chocolatey entries today. If you’re a chocolate enthusiast, you must check out the entries for this event. Even if you aren’t a big chocolate fan (is that possible?), it’s fascinating to make the virtual acquaintance of chocolate shops and their very dedicated patrons in Switzerland, Australia, New York, and Italy. I lost count of all the chocolate retail websites I must’ve added to my today, as a result.

The greatest eye opener for me, however, was the video in Ed’s post over at Tomato. The video is a short PR film on Grenada Chocolate company, called “Radical Chocolate” by Eti Pelig. I’ve seen a bar or two of Grenada chocolate at my local chocolate shop, but haven’t really gotten around to picking some up. Its packaging is bright and playful, almost the sort of packaging you’d associate with candy for children. I like my chocolate bitter and intense, so perhaps maybe that’s why I never tried it out. According to the film, Grenada Chocolate is perhaps the first solar-operated chocolate producing cooperative in the world. This is a far cry from the behemoth chocolate producers who engage in appalling labor practices, particularly in some parts of Western Africa. In contrast, founder Mott Green decided to revive the dying cacao industry in Grenada by developing a small-scale chocolate production facility owned by workers. The company provides dignified, safe work to the people in the area, and the cacao is sustainably, and ecologically grown. It’s really an amazing story, but Pelig’s video tells it best. As soon as I saw the film, I understood that Grenada Chocolate’s colorful packaging is simply an accurate reflection of the vibrant Caribbean community where the factory resides.

Many thanks to Emily for hosting this fun event, and for choosing an open cupboard as the winner.

food destinations #3: my favorite chocolate shop

Sunday, October 29th, 2006


Allow me to introduce you to my dealer: Bittersweet Café, readers, readers, Bittersweet Café. Bittersweet is a chocolate shop and café in Oakland and San Francisco. It’s a cozy place to have a cup of coffee, or satiate your chocolate craving.

While many chocolate shops concentrate on truffles and confections, Bittersweet offers a wide selection of high quality chocolate bars. The bars at Bittersweet are displayed on shelves, according to category and ascending levels of cocoa solids. First the white chocolate bars (really just vanilla-flavored cocoa butter), then the milk chocolate, the flavored chocolates (Mayan style, ginger, lavender, etc.), the dark chocolates, and the hardcore baking chocolates. I like a good dark chocolate truffle now and then, but I prefer a bar with a high percentage of cocoa solids for everyday consumption. I like my chocolate intense and flavorful, not necessarily sweet, so I usually head straight for the dark and baking sections.


Among my favorite bars:

  • Hachez Premier Cru, 88%—A creamy-textured, slightly berry-like chocolate that’s fun to eat.
  • Domori Puro, 100%—Very intense, dark and strong, almost coffee-like in flavor. A little goes a long way, half a square is usually enough for me. Although this bar has no sugar, it’s still a little sweet and delicious on its own. This is the kind of chocolate you want to eat slowly while sitting in your favorite chair and maybe sipping a cognac. Actually, skip the cognac. Who needs cognac when you have chocolate this good?
  • Santander Dark, 70%—A smooth, creamy bar that tastes of kahlua, but contains no coffee liqueur.
  • Dolfin Noir 88% de Cacao—An intense, yet smooth bar. I particularly like the tobacco pouch packaging, no fiddly foil to gently open only to rip to shreds when you try to re-package the rest to save for later.

In addition to bars, Bittersweet offers all manner of chocolate goods and knick-knacks, such as wooden gift boxes filled with a variety of chocolates, books about chocolate, CDs by a band called the Bittersweets, drinking chocolate and cocoa, and cocoa butter chapstick (“chocolate for your lips”).





Of course the requisite t-shirts bearing the store’s logo are fetchingly displayed as well.


Once you’ve picked out your take-home goods, you can order a hot drink and a little something to go with it.




My favorite drink is the Bittersweet:a hot drinking chocolate prepared without milk. Rich, smooth, and not too sweet, the Bittersweet is truly a balm for the soul on a cold day. I can never finish it at one go, as it’s so intense. I often refrigerate the remainder and eat it later as a sort of chocolate pudding.

Bittersweet’s excellence in all things chocolate is only exceeded by their friendly, knowledgeable staff. Every employee I’ve spoken to at Bittersweet knows their chocolate, and is thoughtful enough to consult a fellow staff-member if they don’t. Most employees enjoy sampling the goods, so they can guide you in choosing a bar that suits your tastes. One staffer once took the time to explain the rules of thumb in finding chocolates produced without the abominable use of slavery (cocoa grown on family-owned plantations, cocoa grown in South America as opposed to certain regions of West Africa).

I especially appreciate the staff’s accommodation of my picture-snapping today. I really do try to be unobtrusive, but people eventually notice that you’re the only idiot in the shop taking pictures of chocolate. They were enthusiastic when I told them about the Food Destinations chocolate blogging event and we started talking a bit about foodblogging. When I commented on both baristas’ lovely henna-painted hands, I got into an interesting conversation about the ancient Egyptian art of henna hand painting with new employee and henna artist Silvana. That’s just the kind of place Bittersweet is.


Bittersweet Chocolate Café
5427 College Avenue (two blocks south of Rockridge BART Station)
Oakland, CA 94618
(510) 654-7159

Opening Hours:
Sunday through Thursday 9am to 7pm
Friday 9am to 9pm
Saturday 9am to 9pm

Food destinations #3: My Favorite Chocolate Shop

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