June 27, 2011

Berry Yummy, Angel Food Cake

It's berry picking season. Time to look up local farms and see if they offer pick your own. There's nothing quite like being out in the sun, plucking ripe berries right from the vine with a basket swung over your shoulder, as you shovel strawberries directly into your mouth. Not that I'm speaking from personal experience or anything. Because that would be wrong...

Eating fresh berries that you've just picked is like nothing else. You can almost taste the warmth of the sun in every berry. Fresh, fresh, fresh.

Before you know it you have an entire basket full of berries to bring home. That you have to eat up in a week. Hmmm...

Berries are excellent on cake. Angel food cake with fresh fruit and maybe a dash of vanilla ice cream would be a perfect solution, no?

If you don't have berries, you could spread high quality jam on each slice and cover in whipped cream.

Angel food cake is a soft sponge. It's light and airy texture makes it a delightful summer treat when heavier desserts just aren't as appealing.

Angel Food Cake
Recipe from the Betty Crocker Cookbook
(serves 12)

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 cup cake flour
1 1/2 cups large egg whites (roughly 12 eggs worth)
1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 almond extract
1/4 teaspoon salt

Place the oven rack in the lowest position and preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Mix together the powdered sugar and flour. In another bowl, beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar. The eggs should become foamy. Add the granulated sugar a few tablespoons at a time, beating the mixture constantly on high speed. With the last few tablespoons of sugar, add the almond and vanilla extracts with the salt.

Continue beating the mixture until stiff peaks form. The mixture will be glossy. It is very important to not underbeat. Stiff peaks can be tested by gently dipping the head of the mixer into the egg whites. Pull the beaters out. Check the shape of the mixture clinging to the beaters, which should be similar to the shape of a mountain peak. If the whites hold their shape firmly even if you gently rotate the beaters back and forth manually, then you have stiff peaks and can move on to the next step.

Bring back the powdered sugar mixture and sprinkle small amounts over the egg mixture, about 1/4 of a cup at a time. Fold into the egg whites with a spatula until combined. It is important to be gentle and to only mix until the mixture is absorbed, as to not deflate the egg whites.

Scrape the batter into a 10 x 4 inch tube pan. Cut once through the batter with a knife or metal spatula to break any possible air pockets.

Bake 30-35 minutes. The cracks on top of the cake should feel dry and should spring back when touched gently.

Cooling the cake is important to do correctly. Angel food cake cools upside-down. If your foam cake pan has feet to allow the top, simply flip the cake over and let cool on your countertop. Otherwise use a heat proof bottle or funnel. Insert the bottle through the hole in the cake. It seems like a small thing, but it is important to test that the bottle will fit and balance the pan correctly before baking. Otherwise you may find yourself trying and failing to hold onto an extremely hot pan, while you search through your cabinet for bottles that are strong enough to hold up a cake. Ouch.

Let the cake cool for 2 hours or so until completely cooled. Flip the pan upright. Using a plastic knife loosen the edges of the cake from the pan. Remove cake. Serve.

June 16, 2011

Toffee Bars

Start with a buttery cookie base- followed with a layer of melted milk chocolate with chopped walnuts sprinkled on top. And what do you get? Toffee bars.

The sweetest kindest bar cookie on the block.

This is the cookie to make for friends, neighbors, new roommates or just people you want to impress the heck out of for minimum effort.

Why is it an impressive cookie?

1. It's easy to make, because it's not a drop cookie that is baked individually, but a bar cookie. You plop all the dough in on pan and bake it like a cake.

2. It has "layers", but isn't as complex as say-- a 7-layer bar recipe. Again, Easy-Bake Oven easy.

3. A toffee bar is not a chocolate chip cookie. Nor does it contain chocolate chips in any form. This automatically makes it an interesting alternative to the norm. And if you bring it to a block party, you avoid that awkward moment that comes from realizing you brought the same dessert as someone else. Oooh, burn.

4. Each cookie comes with a list of references, witty conversation starters and is bilingual.

5. It is composed of simple flavors that everyone enjoys, so it's bound to be a hit among all ages.

6. If you make an angel food cake or meringues with it, you can use up an excess egg yolk. Yeah. It is that awesome.

7. It's something to do during the summer with excess chocolate, (if there is indeed such a thing), besides making s'mores. Mmm...s'mores.

Toffee Bars
(makes 32 cookies)
From the Betty Crocker Cookbook
1 cup butter (softened)
1 cup brown sugar (packed)
1 tsp vanilla
1 egg yolk
2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
2/3 cup milk chocolate chips/bar
1/2 chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix together the butter, brown sugar, vanilla and egg yolk in a large bowl or mixer. Add flour and salt slowly to the mixture, stirring until combined.

Scrape into an 13x9x2 inch pan. Press down on dough gently to create an even surface. Take care that the edges are level as well.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes. The bars should be a light brown and will still be soft.

Remove from the oven and immediately sprinkled the chocolate pieces evenly over the crust. As the heat begins to melt the chocolate spread evenly over the cookies. Add nuts to the warm chocolate.

Let bars cool completely in pan on a wire rack. Cut into 32 pieces.

Tip: If you over bake the crust, pop the cookies into an airtight container with a lid. Add a slice of bread and seal the container. Leave overnight. The toffee bars will soften.
The bread will be hard as a rock. You won't be able to save it. Sorry.
Nab a free slice of bread from your dining hall if you can. Just make sure it isn't already stale.

June 14, 2011

Matzah Brei

The school year is winding down, homework is grinding to a halt and suddenly you have more projects and finals than you know what to do with. Another thing winding down? Your meal plan. Suddenly your social life increases as you cling like a sea lichen to various people you sat next to that one time in college writing, because they happen to have some extra points on their meal card. This makes for some awkward conversations as you attempt to bum your way through the next few weeks.

But, fortunately you are one of the lucky ones! You have access to a kitchen. And this kitchen has working appliances, like a stove and an oven. Yay!

Unfortunately, you're just about broke. So, retract that last yay.

What to do?

Hey, remember those Jewish friends you have? The ones who celebrate Passover? I bet they have a ton of leftover food you could have. Probably several boxes of matzah under the sink. And trust me, they won't be touching that stuff for another year anyway. It's a Jew thing.

Don't know anybody who has extra matzah? Time to check out that discounted aisle at the supermarket.

So now you and your several boxes of life-giving matzah are in the kitchen. You've had matzah toast with jam, matzah crackers in your chicken noodle soup and matzah sandwiches that have crumbled onto your lap, and you're feeling a little iffy about my advice.

Sorry about that. You have tons of eggs, right? Here, have a recipe. It's like making french toast and a large omelette at the same time. It's fantastic.

Matzah Brei
(Recipe from The Jewish Holiday Kitchen by Joan Nathan)
serves 3-4 people

Boiling Water
3 sheets of Matzah
2 eggs
salt and pepper (to taste)
butter (for frying)

Boil and pour the hot water into a large heat resistant bowl. Take the matzah and break into pieces, dropping them into the bowl.  Allow the matzah to soak for 15 minutes. Drain. Gently squeeze the excess moisture from the matzot.

Place the matzah back into the bowl.
Crack the two eggs into a small dish. Gently beat the eggs with a folk, just enough to separate the yolk. Add salt and pepper. Pour mixture over the matzah.

Butter your skillet or just a flat frying pan.You shouldn't need more than a tablespoon of butter at a time if you're making in two batches, but feel free to use less if you are making smaller portions. If you have a large pan, you can pour the entire mixture into the pan at once. Allow it to cook for 3-4 minutes or until it is brown on one side.

Flip and cook for an additional 3-4 minutes.

Serve warm.

Drizzle maple syrup or honey on top. Add cinnamon if desired.