Saturday, July 30, 2016

Cardamom Pecan Coffee Cake

"Never photograph anything you are not passionately interested in." (Lisette Model) As I was reading "Diane Arbus: Portrait of a Photographer", a biography written by Arthur Lubow, I couldn't help but wonder why my very amateur photographic eye has been drawn more toward capturing landscapes, animals, and, of course, food rather than people. Of the thousands and thousands of photos I have taken over the last five years, there are relatively few having either familiar or unfamiliar people as the focal point. Often when photographing landscapes or the iconic images within them, I have positioned my lens or waited for the capture to be free of human life. Being unable to telepathically ask people to move slightly to the right or the left, I will shamelessly admit to, on a few occasions, kindly, yet boldly asking if they could please pause in place while I took a few photos. Fortunately I have yet to meet anyone telling me to, as they say, 'go jump in the lake'. Whatever the reason or reasons explaining my photographic interests, obsessions, and exclusions, something in this biography has opened my eyes to the possibilities of taking my photographic endeavors from a different, or rather, broadened vantage point. While I don't see myself going from one end of the continuum to the other, I can see myself experimenting with shifting away from, rather than staying only at the single end of it. Along with broadening and expanding the photographic concept of balance, who knows where some of this introspection might lead.

I would like to think I use the same kind of discerning eye when taking a photo as I do when reading new recipes. Rather than completing disregarding a recipe when I perceive something is a little 'off', I generally use a combination of my intuition and knowledge along with other recipes to come up with a version I think might work. Sometimes this works, and sometimes it doesn't (you don't ever get to see the things that don't). My path to the recipes I want to try are not alway linear, as something in my deeper search frequently leads me in a completely different direction. However, being side-tracked can sometimes be very good thing. Recently I came across a recipe for a Cardamom Coffee Cake made in a 9"x12" baking pan and piled high with a topping of sugars, butter, pecans and spices. Intrigued by this recipe, I began a search to see just how many other versions there were of a coffee cake having cardamom as its' main spice. Not many actually. However, I ultimately came across a recipe from the famous Moosewood Cafe, one made in either a bundt or tube pan with a nut filling sprinkled between the layers of cake's batter. This Cardamom Pecan Coffee Cake is a hybridized version of the Moosewood Cookbook recipe and the one initially peaking my baking interest.

If you search for the Mollie Katzen's Moosewood Cafe's Cardamom Coffee Cake recipe, you will discover that version and this one look very different. Instead of a light colored cake crumb with discernible streaks of nut filling, this one is darker with an almost invisible distinction between the cake and nut filling layers. Was it because I used sour cream instead of the other options of buttermilk or yogurt in the batter? Was it because the filling was made with toasted pecans instead of walnuts? Or was it because I added some melted butter, vanilla, and salt to the filling? I don't really know which one or ones were contributing factors. But what I do know is that I loved the deep, rich color of this moist, perfectly spiced coffee cake more than the ones I found on other foodblogs.

This is the kind of cake you want to make when you are having a brunch or weekend guests, needing to bring something to a gathering or a hostess gift if invited to spend a weekend at the home of a friend, as a gift for a friend or new neighbor, or whenever you have grown tired of the store bought bakery confections brought into your office. Easily made the night before, this moist cake actually improves in flavor if allowed to sit (well covered) overnight. Although I wouldn't pass up the chance to serve this cake while slightly warm.

With the exception of the cardamom, more than likely you have all of the ingredients for this Cardamom Pecan Coffee Cake in your pantry and refrigerator. Although, as luck would have it, when I began assembling the ingredients for this cake I discovered there were more than a half dozen boxes of dark brown rather than light brown sugar in the cabinet. Apparently I must not be able to keep an accurate mental inventory of brown sugars in my head or somehow think there will be a shortage of dark brown sugar when I go shopping. When making the cake batter, alway remember to give your eggs and butter time to come to room temperature. I generally take them out of the refrigerator the night before baking. The resulting cake batter will be very thick, so a standing mixer with a paddle attachment makes it easier on your arms to prepare.

The nut filling in the original Moosewood Cafe cookbook called for only for a quarter cup of packed brown sugar, one tablespoon cinnamon and one half cup chopped nuts. However, in this version I used one cup of (toasted) pecans, a combination of brown sugar and granulated sugar, some melted butter, cinnamon and kosher salt. I used almost four tablespoons of melted butter, however, would recommend scaling this back to 2 or 3 tablespoons. You want just enough to bind these ingredients together. Feel free to use walnuts instead of pecans, but you will definitely want the full tablespoon of cinnamon in this filling.

There are two recommended pan options for this Cardamom Pecan Coffee Cake: a tube pan or a bundt pan. Considering this is such a dense cake, I would strongly recommend the use of a (10 inch non-stick) tube pan to ensure evenness in baking. By adding a glaze to this coffee cake (and/or some additional chopped nuts or edible flowers on top) it will be so 'dressed up' you might not even miss the 'bundt' cake look.

Regardless of which pan option you decide to use, make certain to use some non-stick spray to ensure easy removal. There are essentially five layers to this cake: three of batter and two of filling. Beginning and ending with placing one-third of the cake batter in the pan. In a preheated oven, the baking time for this Cardamom Pecan Coffee Cake in a preheated 350 degree (F) oven will be anywhere between 70 and 90 minutes or until it the top is beautifully browned and a probe all the down to the bottom of the cake comes out clean. Depending on your oven (or pan), you might want to begin checking for doneness at 60 minutes. The aroma emanating from this cake as it bakes in the oven is downright intoxicating.

Consider the confectionary sugar glaze as a necessary option. Just remember, a smooth glaze requires the use of sifted confectionary sugar.

Once the cake is removed from the oven, allow it to sit in the pan for an additional twenty minutes before inverting onto a cake stand or platter. And then wait another twenty to thirty minute before pouring over the glaze.

The best description of the difficult to capture in words flavor of cardamom was shared in an article written by Serious Eats....."part nostril-widening menthol, part dew-drenched flower, part honeyed syrup. There is nothing subtle about cardamom, so when used in all but sparing amounts it will dominate whatever it's paired with. Used properly, it elevates sweet and savory dishes, adding layers of flavor that stay on the tongue..."  Used in both sweet and savory dishes, cardamom is one of those spices you want to have in your life. The original recipe called for only the use of 1 1/2 teaspoons of cardamom. But in reviewing other's adaptations to this recipe, many increased the amount to 1 tablespoon. And happily so did I. Between the cardamom in the batter and the cinnamon in the pecan filling, this cake was satisfyingly delicious!

I often will take photographs of the same landscape. No two photos are ever the same. The time of year and day along with my choice of aperture or millimeter settings significantly affect the final photo. Invariably after declaring a photo a 'favorite', another capture of the same view has me proclaiming it to be my new 'favorite'. Like my photos, I have now discovered a new 'favorite' coffee cake. And it may just one of those 'melt in your mouth' coffee cakes having the distinction of being the most favored of all. I won't say never (shudder the thought of permanently closing the door on anything), but it will definitely be long awhile before I look for or bake a different one.

This is not one of those coffee cakes that everyone will eat just because it's there. Rather it's one your family and friends will be hoping you make.

Cardamom Pecan Coffee Cake (an adaptation of the Cardamom Coffee Cake recipe from The Moosewood Cookbook and the Food and Wine recipe for Cardamom-Spiced Coffee Cake)

2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups light brown sugar, firmly packed
4 large eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla
16 ounces sour cream
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 Tablespoon ground cardamom (Note: The original recipe called for 1 1/2 teaspoons of cardamom, but I loved the flavor imparted by the full tablespoon. Feel free to use an amount as little as 1 1/2 teaspoons or as much a 1 Tablespoon)

Pecan Filling
1 cup pecans, lightly toasted and chopped
2-3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon cinnamon

1 cup confectionary sugar, sifted
4 Tablespoons whole milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F). Prepare a 10" bundt pan with non-stick spray and set aside.
2. Put flour, baking powder, baking soda, cardamom and salt in a medium sized mixing bowl. Whisk until blended. Set aside.
3. In a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy (approximately 3-4 minutes).
4. Add eggs, one a time, beating until incorporated.
5. Mix in vanilla.
6. Add flour mixture and sour cream alternately, beginning and ending with the flour to the batter. Do not over mix. Batter will be very thick.
Note: There will be 3 additions of flour and 2 addition of the sour cream.

Pecan Filling
1. In a small bowl, mix together the pecans, brown sugar, sugar, butter and salt until blended. Set aside.

1. In a small bowl, whisk together the sifted confectionary sugar, milk and vanilla. Stir until smooth. Note: If glaze is too thin, add a little more confectionary sugar. Conversely if it is too thick, add a little more milk. Set aside.

1. Spoon one-third of the batter into prepared pan. Smooth slightly.
2. Sprinkle one-half of the pecan filling over the batter.
3. Spoon another one-third of the batter over the pecan filling.
4. Sprinkle remaining one-half of the pecan filling over the batter.
5. Finish with remaining batter, smoothing out surface with an offset spatula.
6. Bake for 70-90 minutes or until brown on top and a tester comes out dry when inserted all the way through the cake.
7. Remove from oven and allow to cool for 20 minutes.
8. Invert pan onto cake plate or platter. Allow to set another 20-30 minutes before pouring on the glaze.
9. Drizzle glaze over the top and sides of the cake.
10. Cut into slices and serve. Cover cake with plastic wrap to keep fresh.

Notes: Cake can be made a day ahead. Will keep for 3-4 days if tightly wrapped. Feel free to double the amount of glaze, particularly if you like a heavily glazed cake.

One typical photo and one a slight departure, both taken on the streets of Tombstone, Arizona (2016)

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Kahlua Affogato Sundaes

One of the upsides to having some of my favorite television shows coming to their season's end is that I now spend even more of my discretionary time reading. With many more months to go before Homeland, House of Cards, Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, and The Affair return, I have completely immersed myself in newly purchased books as well as ones sitting on my library shelf, patiently waiting to be read. Of all of life's simplest of joys, reading a hard covered edition of a book is one of them. While patience is not high on my list of virtues, I would gladly wait a day or two for a book to be delivered from Amazon Prime before downloading a book on a reader or any other device. Yes, I am admittedly and proudly old school when it comes to book reading. Something almost unexplainably magical happens each time I open a hard covered book. My unwillingness to give up this book format may be because I feel a greater connection to the words, to the emotions, or to the characters in the book or it might just be because it feels as if I am holding a piece of priceless art in my hands. Whatever the reason or reasons, I genuinely hope that, in this sometimes unpredictable world we live in, hard covered books will remain a constant well beyond my lifetime.

Affogato, coming from the Italian word 'affogare' ('to drown'), is traditionally made with a scoop of gelato and a shot of freshly brewed espresso. Partly eaten with a spoon and partly enjoyed as a drink, it is a dessert best described as decadently blissful. While there are an infinite number of variations to the ingredients (gelato or ice cream, freshly brewed strong coffee or espresso, the addition or absence of a complimentary liqueur), there is generally only one universally shared opinion of this classic Italian hot-cold confection. Delizioso!

If you were ever looking for an easy, simple to assemble dessert to completely impress and WOW your friends and family, make these Kahlua Affogato Sundaes. Seriously, you will be more exhausted from listening to everyone's rave reviews than from the effort and energy that you put into assembling them. 

I may have shared with you in a prior blog post that one of my most favorite flavors of ice cream is vanilla. This is due in large part to overindulging in continually tasting the richer ice creams served at the Baskin Robbins I worked at during college. Because sometimes it was slow and well, what else were we supposed to do? After living out east for several years, my repertoire of ice creams expanded to include coffee, chocolate espresso and coconut. While a vanilla ice cream, or the more traditional gelato, works incredibly well in these Kahlua Affogato Sundaes, feel free to combine ice cream flavors that compliment one another as well as the coffee/espresso and liqueur of your choosing. 

The addition of freshly lightly sweetened whipped cream along with a garnish of maraschino cherries (or chocolate covered espresso beans) is what makes these Affogato Sundaes a slightly more over the top dessert. You don't like making whipped cream, well, simply omit it. Although a cup of heavy cream whipped together with one tablespoon of confectionary sugar until light peaks form is the proverbial icing on the cake. 

Possibly one of the biggest decisions to be made when assembling these Kahlua Affogato Sundaes is deciding which glass or dish to serve them in. Whichever glass or dish you choose, it should be a clear one so everyone can visually see the beauty of this dessert. Because it can be partly eaten with a spoon or sipped, consider choosing a short-stemmed martini glass or other beautiful drinking glass. Drinking a dessert from a bowl may not so bad when no one is around to witness it (we have all done this), but around a dinner table drinking from a bowl may be something even your most laid back, not a pretentious bone in their body friends might give pause. 

Any number of liqueurs would work well. In addition to Kahlua, Bailey's Irish Cream, or Tia Maria would be equally delicious and subtle enough to still allow the flavor of the coffee or espresso to come through.

If you are not going to go the sundae route with these affogatos, finish them off with the maraschino cherries or chocolate covered espresso beans. If you are really looking to splurge on this dessert, consider the Luxardo Maraschino cherries from Italy as they are not anything like their neon red American versions. But making these Kahlua Affogato Sundaes without them is not a deal breaker. Instead top with some chocolate covered espresso beans or allow the dollops of freshly sweetened whipped cream to be the finishing touch.

An affogato is a timeless, classic dessert. One destined to be hopelessly, deeply loved by your family and friends. If you are looking to keep it classic, make it only with gelato and espresso. But either way you decide to serve it, you can't go wrong. 

Kahlua  Affogato Sundaes (ever so slight adaptation to Ina Garten's Affogato Sundaes recipe)
Serves 4

2 pints of high quality vanilla ice cream or gelato (or use a combination of vanilla and coffee flavors), slightly softened
8 Tablespoons of Kahlua (or Bailey's Irish Cream or Tia Maria)
8 Tablepooons freshly brewed strong coffee or espresso
Freshly whipped sweetened whipped cream
Chocolate covered espresso beans and/or maraschino cherries (recommend 

1. Place 2 to 3 generous scoops of slightly softened ice cream in serving glasses or dishes.
3. Spoon 2 Tablespoons of Kahlua (or liqueur of your choice) over the ice cream.
4. Spoon 2-3 Tablespoons of the strong coffee of espresso over the ice cream. Note: I used 2 Tablespoons
5. Dollop with some freshly whipped lightly sweetened whipped cream.
6. Garnish with chocolate covered espresso beans and/or maraschino cherries. (highly recommend Luxardo Maraschino cherries)
7. Serve immediately.

Notes: (1) Make scoops of slightly softened ice cream, place on a tray and return to the freezer until ready to assemble, (2) Serve Affogato Sundaes in martini glasses as when fully melted makes for a delicious drink ending to the dessert, and (3) Splurge on the best ice cream. On the east coast my splurge would be Bliss ice cream (freshly handpacked), but here in the midwest my go to is Ben and Jerry's vanilla or Graeter's vanilla.

Early morning along the South Rim of the Grand Canyon (2016)

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Seasoned Pretzels

My rather overactive imagination is currently failing me. For some reason I thought reading Summit, an incredibly well written book with Mt. Everest as the part of the backdrop, I could somehow transport my body from this oppressively hot midwestern weather to a much cooler climate. Sort of like the whole mind over matter concept. I know that sounds like a bit of slightly delusional thinking. But consider this. If a book has the power to take one's mind to unexplored places and/or one's heart to feeling a book's full range of emotions, shouldn't it be possible for one's body to vicariously feel the setting? Like the 50 something degree temperatures (F) in Lhasa, Tibet this week? I only wish our imaginations were that powerful. Because if they were, while envisioning what the 'not enough words' to fully capture the views at the summit of Mt. Everest might actually be, along with allowing my heart to race with feelings of exhilaration and angst, I would want my body to feel the frigid climbing season weather. Momentarily, of course. Or at least just long enough to give me some relief from this 'when will it end' heatmagedon. 

I haven't been able to bring myself to turn on the oven this week even though the person who shall remain nameless is home for a few days. Fortunately there was some leftover Peach Cobbler in the refrigerator (it reheated beautifully in the microwave) and some Cowboy Cookies in the freezer (perfect for ice cream sandwiches) to satisfy his sweet tooth. So while the list of absolutely have to make recipes requiring an oven grows longer by the day, I will 'uncharacteristically' wait for slightly cooler temperatures to return before I try them. Yes, the house is air-conditioned, but the humidity in the outside air seems to creep in each time I open any of the outside doors.  

In yet another one of my usual self departures, I discovered one of those less than six ingredients, needs no baking, quick and easy, made entirely of packaged/bottle ingredient recipes. I actually tasted a version of these Seasoned Pretzels while on my short Michigan vacation with my sister and her family. While sitting on the beach, my brother-in-law's sister came over and asked if we wanted any pretzels. Craving salt, I took a small handful. I got much more than the expected taste of salty pretzel. At first I couldn't discern all of the flavors of the pretzels, so of course, I had to have another handful. This time one slightly larger than the first. These slightly addictive pretzels were salty, buttery, mildly garlic-y, and bursting with an array of seasonings.

As soon as I came home I started doing a recipe search for them. While there were some ingredient variations, the ones having a package of Hidden Valley Ranch Mix, garlic powder, and onion powder were most appealing. As a disclaimer, these may not be the healthiest pretzels to pass your lips. Due in large part to the twelve ounce bottle of Orville Reddenbacher's Popping and Topping. But they are definitely some of the most flavorful, destined to be habit forming pretzels you will eat!

The amount of pretzels recommended in the myriad of recipes I came across ranged from two to three pounds. I went with two and a half pounds. But next time would use only two and a quarter pounds to ensure all of the pretzels are equally well seasoned. I also used only 2 teaspoons of garlic powder and would keep that amount even if slightly reducing the amount of pretzels. 

Making these pretzels in one of those jumbo (2 to 3 gallon sized) ziplocking baggies is almost a necessity. In addition to keeping the pretzels fresh, they not only make the process of gently tossing (or flipping) the pretzels in the mixture easier, the liquid from the buttery topping has a greater chance of becoming equally absorbed. 

If you are looking for the perfect party snack to serve in the summer (or year round), especially one taking minimal effort, these Seasoned Pretzels might be the hit of your next gathering. Oh, did I tell you they pair perfectly with ice cold beer? And unless you live in a cool climate, have access to a pool or a body of water, that might be a good way to cool off! No imagination required.

Seasoned Pretzels (inspired by multiple sources)

2 - 2 1/2 pounds pretzels (recommend using a combination of pretzel shapes of similar size) 
12 ounce bottle of Buttery Flavor Popcorn Oil (recommend Orville Reddenbacher's Popping and Topping)
1 packet Hidden Valley Ranch Mix 
1 teaspoon onion powder
2 - 3 teaspoons garlic powder (I used 2 teaspoons)
Jumbo ziplock baggies
Serving suggestion: Your favorite ice cold beer.

1. In a jumbo sized ziplock bag, add pretzels.
2. Pour in Buttery Flavor Popcorn Oil. Seal bag and gently shake.
3. Carefully reopen ziplock bag and pour in Hidden Valley Ranch Mix, onion powder, and garlic powder. Reseal and gently shake to distribute dry ingredients.
4. Lag bag flat in a cool place. Turn every 60-90 minutes for the first 8 hours. Turn/toss every so often after that or until all of the oil is absorbed (approximately 20-24 hours).
5. Transfer seasoned pretzels to a clean ziplock bag.
6. Serve and savor. 

Notes: The smaller sized pretzel rings and waffle shapes work well. Next time would make with no more than 2 1/4 pounds of pretzels to ensure all of the pretzels are equally well seasoned. Make these pretzels a day in advance to ensure all of the buttery topping is fully absorbed. Surprisingly these Seasoned Pretzels are not all wet or greasy.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Strawberry Marshmallows

Once a month the movie theatre in the town I live in has a midweek afternoon and evening showing of an art house, indie, and/or award winning foreign film. Almost always the theatre is packed for the afternoon screening, although there aren't usually long lines at the concession stand. The audience is, if I were to venture a guess, somewhere between the ages of 65 and 70, regardless of the time of year. Apparently there are not many 20, 30, 40, and 50 year olds willing to play hooky from work, skip a day of shopping, or give themselves a break from life's other responsibilities to go to the movie theatre to see a compelling afternoon film. If there was ever a reason to fully embrace the 'life is short' mantra, then spending a couple of hours in the middle of the day in a theatre watching a film taking you on a visual and/or emotional journey, reminding you wittiness will never be over-rated, or giving you a sense of euphoria over being intellectually challenged, well those might be reasons enough. Why should anyone have to wait until their retirement years to experience a mid-week afternoon matinee? And let's not forget about having access to freshly made, not sitting all day, popcorn. Lightly buttered, because after all, if you are going to completely espouse the 'life is short' philosophy, you aren't going to skip out on the butter.

While I am not yet in the average age demographic of those attending the afternoon showing Papa Hemingway in Cuba this past week, I left with a couple of takeaways from this good (not exactly Golden Globe or Academy Award winning great) film. Until seeing this movie, Cuba was not on my bucket list of places I would like to someday see. It is now. And although I have read my share of Ernest Hemingway books, it was a quote attributed to him in the film that resonated with me. "The only value we have as human beings is the risks we are willing to take." While it has been several days since I have seen the movie, I can't seem to get that quote and all of its' implications out of my head. Would love to see where those words took a conversation with friends over some mojitos or margaritas. If anything, maybe I could convince some of them to play hooky and go to an afternoon matinee with me.

The relatively short strawberry season may be winding down but these Strawberries Marshmallows may be one way to make it a year round one. The moment I saw famed chocolatier, chef, cookbook author Alice Medrich's Strawberry Marshmallows posted I knew I wanted to make them. Only rather try a new marshmallow recipe, I would make them using the Fluffy Marshmallow recipe posted to this blog. It wasn't that I didn't trust this culinary maven's recipe, it's just some days are just less adventurous, less risk-taking ones in the kitchen than others. And this was one of those days.

The flavor for these Strawberry Marshmallow comes from pulverized freeze-dried strawberries. Not to be confused with dried or oven dried strawberries, freeze-dried strawberries are more flavorful and free of added sugar. Use either a small food processor or mortar and pestle to grind the freeze-dried strawberries. Whether I was still distracted from the film or any other number of thoughts continuously competing for attention in my head, I used only 16 grams (an amount a smidgeon above the recommendation of Alice Medrich) of the freeze-dried strawberries. It was only after I finished making them and looking back at her recipe that I realized the ratio of ingredients in my marshmallow recipe was almost double hers. I would have to wait almost 24 hours before learning whether or not this was a mistake.

What differentiates these marshmallows from others is the incorporation of two beaten egg whites. The egg whites are beaten until stiff peaks form, but the whipped eggs should remain creamy, not dry or stiff. They are added to the triple in volume marshmallow mixture along with the vanilla and ground strawberries.

Working quickly the marshmallows are poured into the prepared plan.  The use of an offset spatula helps to even out the mixture and create a texture to the top. About a quarter cup of the confectionary sugar/cornstarch mixture is generously sifted over the top. Allow the marshmallows to set up (uncovered) overnight in a cool place.

Before cutting the marshmallows (first in long strips), prepare a bowl of the confectionary sugar/cornstarch mixture. Each marshmallow should be tossed in the mixture and then gently shaken (using a sieve) to remove the excess.

 If I were using these marshmallows to make smores, I would cut then in 2 inch squares. But for marshmallow to be enjoyed all on their own, cutting them into approximately 1 inch square makes for the perfect bite.

 Using a long, thin, sharp knife to cut the long strips, but use a pair of sharp scissors to cut the individual squares.

For a fresh from the candy store look presentation, I like using white mini-muffin papers. Note: My favorites are the ones from Williams-Sonoma.

As I was cutting the marshmallows the aroma of the strawberries filled the air. So even before I tasted them, I was feeling like my use of 16 grams of the freeze-dried strawberries may not have been a mistake after all.

The taste of the Strawberry Marshmallows was like a sweet gentle strawberry kiss. And the ones dipped in milk chocolate was like eating a chocolate covered strawberry. If I want a deeper strawberry flavor the next time I make them, I would increase the amount of freeze-dried strawberries somewhere between 20 and 22 grams. Although I liked the more subtle flavor of strawberry in these marshmallows so it is going to be a tough decision.

I have always loved chocolate covered marshmallows. But I have never tasted a chocolate covered marshmallow as delicious as these. These have definitely raised the chocolate covered marshmallow bar!

If you have never had a springy, fluffy, light, melt in your mouth homemade marshmallow before, you must give yourself that experience. Especially a pale pink strawberry one. If you have never made them before, you must! Especially on a day when you are feeling fearless in the kitchen! Of all of the risks you consider taking in your life, think of this one as one having only the best of outcomes! And every once in awhile give yourself permission to play hooky and take in an afternoon matinee or Cubs game on a glorious summer day. Life is short.

Strawberry Marshmallows (marshmallow recipe adapted from Bon Appetit July 2008 and inspiration for strawberry marshmallows from Alice Medrich)

3 1/2 envelopes (2 Tablespoons plus 2 1/2 teaspoons or 7/8 ounce) unflavored gelatin (recommend Knox)
1 cup cold water, divided
2 cups granulated sugar
2/3 cup light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 large egg whites (beaten until they hold stiff peaks)
1 Tablespoon vanilla
16-18 grams freeze-dried strawberries, pulverized in a food processor or using a mortar and pestle. Recommend the ones sold at Trader Joe's.
1/2 cup confectionary sugar, sifted
1/2 cup cornstarch, sifted (recommend Maizena)
 1 pound Milk chocolate, melted (optional)

1. Lightly spray bottom and sides of 13"x9"x2" rectangular metal baking pan. Line baking pan with parchment paper. Lightly spray with vegetable oil. Dust bottom and sides of paper lined pan with a mixture of the sifted confectionary sugar and cornstarch. Set aside.
2. In the bowl of a standing mixer, add gelatin. Pour 1/2 cup very cold water over gelatin. Let stand to soften.
3. In a heavy 3 quart saucepan, combine granulated sugar, corn syrup, salt, and 1/2 cup cold water. Stir over low heat until sugar is dissolved.
4. Increase heat to moderate and allow mixture to come to a bowl until it reaches 240 degrees (F) on a candy thermometer. Note: Do not stir mixture while boiling.
5. Remove pan from heat and slow pour mixture over gelatin mixture while mixer is running. After all of the sugar syrup is poured into the bowl, increase speed to high and beat until the mixture is white, thick, shiny and nearly tripled in volume (approximately 10-12 minutes).
6. Beat in egg whites, vanilla, and ground freeze-dried strawberries until well blended. 
7. Working quickly pour into prepared pan. Smooth top with an offset spatula.
8. Sprinkle top with a mixture of the sifted confectionary sugar and cornstarch. Allow to set overnight (uncovered).
9. Run a thin knife along edge of marshmallows and cut into 1 inch squares. Note: Cut strips of marshmallows with a long thin knife, but cut strips of marshmallows with sharp scissors.
10. Toss marshmallows in the remaining mixture of the sifted confectionary sugar and cornstarch. To gently shake off excess toss in a coarse sieve. Allow to set for several hours before putting into a container.
11. Store marshmallows in an airtight container at cool room temperature for up to a week.
12. Optional: Dip the tops of the marshmallows in melted milk chocolate. Allow to set. Note: I dipped only the tops of the Strawberry Marshmallows in the melted milk chocolate.
Notes: For a stronger strawberry flavor in the marshmallows increase the amount of freeze-dried strawberries to somewhere between 20 and 22 grams.

Bortell's Landing, one of the best seafood restaurants in Michigan (Pentwater, MI).

Monday, July 11, 2016

Peach Cobbler

Upon returning back from a short trip to Michigan, I received a box of the most beautiful, ripest South Carolina peaches I had ever seen. Sorry Georgia, you may be the Peach state, but South Carolina may be the unofficial Peach Queen. This generous, thoughtful gift was sent from a very dear friend who mysteriously said a package would be arriving at my doorstep sometime the first week in July. I wasn't sure what this unexpected gift would be, but I wasn't expecting fruit. Except, this was just fruit and these were not just any peaches. These were peaches from McLeod Farms, a one hundred year old family owned farm in McBee, South Carolina. Because, of course, this friend wasn't going to send just any box of peaches. They would have to be ones coming from a place where fruits and vegetables have been grown by generations of South Carolinians. If one could become legally intoxicated from simply looking at the most perfect peaches, then moments after I opened the box I was definitely drunk in peach love.

"The cobbler is simple. It's homey, nothin' fancy. It cuts across socio-economic lines and is eaten in red and blue states alike. Its' history is one of immigrant innovative spirit. How's that for American?" (Washington Post, 2006). What is not to love about a simple, homemade dessert, one where all of its' fuss is not in its' fancy pastry but rather its' taste from seasonally ripe fruits? Pies may be pretty but the cobbler's true beauty lies in its' simplicity. And this Peach Cobbler, one made with the ripest, freshest peaches and a ginger-pecan cookie-like crust, not only exemplifies but further elevates the allure of the classic American cobbler. Without hesitation I knew the some of those South Carolina peaches were destined for a Peach Cobbler.

While many cobblers, especially the stone fruit ones, call for the use of several fruits, these peaches needed, or rather almost demanded to be, of course in the most gracious Southern way possible, the center of attention.

One of my favorite "Southern" magazines is Garden and Gun. Published (but where else?) in Charleston, South Carolina. While I am mostly drawn to the writing in this magazine, it has also been a source of culinary inspiration. So when searching out Peach Cobbler recipes, I decided Garden and Gun would serve as my muse. Because where else but the South could the best Peach Cobbler recipes come from?

Whenever a recipe calls for 'x number of cups of a stone fruit or x number of fruits', my need for specificity self cringes. Measuring blueberries isn't the same as measuring peeled and sliced peaches. After triangulating several pound to cup conversion sources for peaches, there seemed to be some consensus that a pound of peaches was equivalent to 2 cups of peaches. And generally 2 to 3 medium sized peaches will weigh close to a pound. For this Peach Cobbler, I went with 3 pounds of peaches, as I wanted the ratio between peach filling and topping to be balanced.

If you have peeled a very ripe peach, you probably discovered it is easier done with a sharp knife than with a vegetable peeler. I was reminded of this lesson after massacring the first one!
Instead of cutting the peaches into chunks, I cut them into slices. They were just too pretty not to be cut any other way.

The recommended amounts of sugar to be used in a fruit cobbler, particularly a Peach Cobbler, was essentially all over the map. This particular cobbler used only a half cup of sugar and three tablespoons of honey to compliment the sweetness of the peaches. While some recipes don't advocate for the use of a thickener when making a cobbler, a peach cobbler may qualify as one of the exceptions. Because peaches don't have as much pectin as, let's say apples, it needs a little something to help with setting up the filling. There are a variety of thickening options (flour, cornstarch, tapioca) but I used my favorite, Maizena Corn Starch, as it seems to consistently create the smoothest, silkiest fillings and sauces. Cinnamon and nutmeg are two of the most common spices used in a Peach Cobbler. But there was going to be nothing common about this Peach Cobbler, so it used a combination of cinnamon, ground ginger, and allspice. Although the recipe in Garden and Gun called for equal amounts of each of them, I wanted the allspice to have a more subtle presence in this cobbler, so I significantly decreased it. Lemon zest, lemon juice, kosher salt, vanilla and a tablespoon of unsalted butter rounded out the list of ingredients.

Recently I had made a Blueberry Cobbler using an eggless ginger pecan cookie-like crust from another modified recipe out of Garden and Gun. In keeping with creating a 'Southern' inspired Peach Cobbler, I thought it would be the perfect topping (spoiler alert: it was). Giving this crust added dimensions of flavor are the roasted pecans and chopped crystallized ginger. Note: I like buying the Crystallized Ginger from Trader Joe's for its' freshness, flavor, and cost.
The recipe for the crust makes more than enough for a Peach Cobbler made in a 9"x12" baking dish. I used all but about 2/3 cup of it (I won't tell you what I did with it in light of recent opinions on eating raw cooking dough). Rather than drop pieces of the dough on top of the peach filling, I took pieces and slightly flattened them first before arranging them on top.

In a preheated 350 degree (F) oven, the Peach Cobbler bakes anywhere from 55 to 65 minutes. Or until the top is golden brown and the filling bubbles up along the sides and/or through the topping. The aroma of this Peach Cobbler was just as intoxicating as look of the fresh peaches themselves. Note: Before placing the baking pan in the oven, place on a large baking sheet to catch any of the peach filling drippings.

As much as I hate to tell anyone to wait for something, for anything they crave, I must tell you to wait at least 30 minutes before you serve this cobbler. If you serve it any sooner, it will be much too hot to savor and enjoy. And if you are serving it ala mode, well your ice cream will be completely melted before the third or fourth bite. Serve warm (or even room temperature) with the best vanilla ice cream and, well, everyone will become deliriously happy.

The only downside to receiving the box of fresh peaches was that I could not share this incredibly soul-satisfying, intoxicating, Peach Cobbler with my generous on so many levels friend. If there was ever a case to made for everyone in the country owning their own drone, ones able to safely and swiftly fly across the country, you would have to look no further than this Peach Cobbler. The peach filling was perfectly sweet, spiced, and thick and the topping was perfectly crunchy, nutty, gingery, and just the right amount of sweet. And oh, those slices of the peaches in the filling! This cobbler almost did not need the vanilla ice cream, but then again why have a bowl of comfort food if it can't also be decadent. I think I may have just discovered a new guilty pleasure.

Peach Cobbler (several adaptations to Garden and Gun's Peach Cobbler and Blackberry and Peach Cobbler recipes)

3 pounds (or 6 cups) fresh ripe peaches, peeled and sliced
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 Tablespoons honey
3 Tablespoons cornstarch
Zest and juice of 1 large lemon
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter (plus more for preparing the pan)

Topping and Assembly
3/4 cup (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 light brown sugar, firmly packed
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup crystallized ginger, finely chopped
1 cup pecan halves, toasted and coarsely chopped
Vanilla Ice Cream (Ben and Jerry's is my current favorite)

1. In a large bowl, combine the peach slices, sugar honey, cornstarch, lemon zest, lemon juice, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, kosher salt, and vanilla. Pour into a lightly buttered 9"x12" baking dish. 
2. Top with one tablespoon of butter cut into small pieces.
3. Set aside while you prepare the topping.

Topping and Assembly
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F).
2. In a large mixing bowl, cream butter until smooth (approximately 2 minutes) using a hand mixer.
3. Add granulated sugar and brown sugar to butter and beat at medium-high speed until fluffy (approximately 3-4 minutes).
4. Add dry ingredients in two batches. Mix until well incorporated. Note: Dough will be thick.
5. Mix in chopped ginger and pecans.
6. Remove large tablespoons of dough, flatten with your hands slightly, and place on top of peach mixture. Completely cover the peaches. Note: You will have about 2/3 cup of dough left over, however, if using a larger rectangular pan, you may have less than that remaining.
7. Place peach cobbler pan on a large rimmed baking sheet before putting in the oven to catch any peach filling drippings.
8. Bake for 55-65 minutes or the top is a golden brown and the filling is bubbly around the edges.
9. Allow to rest for 30 minutes before serving. Serve with your most favorite vanilla ice cream.

Notes: Use the ripest peaches you can find.The Peach Cobbler is equally delicious warm or at room temperature. Store any leftovers covered in the refrigerator. Reheat individual serving portions in the microwave before serving. 

Pentwater, Michigan's shades of blue.