Thursday, May 28, 2015

Midweek Roundup: You Got me Baking the Blues

Photo by Tony Bridges
One Crumb at a Time

The trepidation about baking these cheesecakes started with Faithy, who announced that she hated stinky cheese and couldn't see how these were going to work out as a dessert.  But she soldiered on, anyway, reminding herself that she hated the smell of durian as much as she hated the smell of blue cheese, but still loved to eat it.  And it turned out that she liked it (although maybe not as much as she likes durian), and her tasters liked it too.  "Rich and creamy."  But she could still smell the cheese, so "This is not something I can eat every day.  Only for special occasions like Mother's Day."  (I like that Faithy is planning to give herself a stinky cheese present for Mother's Day).

Kim, on the other hand, was looking forward to these baby cakes because they fall into one of her favorite categories of food.  "Stilton, pear and walnut is a classic combo, and I adored this variation.  I love playing with recipes that sit on the fence of not-quite-dessert, not-quite-savory.  They intrigue me because each time you experience the unexpected.  These little cheesecakes follow in the same footsteps--a possible transtional course between the main and the dessert, something that helps you digest and prepares the palate for the sweeter dessert to come."  Doesn't that make you think you'd like to live at Kim's house and have her make dinner for you every day?

Jeniffer also loved the "savoury/sweet theme" and topped hers with roasted walnuts, a pear slice and rosemary-infused honey to "keep playing" the some theme.  She thought that the variations were endless--"consider plum, pear, fresh fig, rhubarb (poached or compote), red grapes, celery, walnuts or honey as toppings."  She added that "the sheer volume of toppings that complement that Stilton baby blue cheesecakes will keep this recipe 'fresh' and in my repertoire."

Catherine didn't really care for the "savoury/sweet" trend that Jeniffer found so attractive, so she went full speed down the "savoury" road:  just a tiny bit of sugar (half a tablespoon) and double the amount of cheese,   She liked their creamy cheesiness and thought they would be an "interesting starter" served with "bitey rocket and tart apple" (Catherine should write menus!).  She adds that the cakes must be "served to the right crowd."  I agree, Catherine--it pays to know the people you're feeding.

Like Faithy, Raymond figured anything with blue cheese in it was going to be a "hard sell" around his house, but unlike Faithy's experience, Raymond's tasters were mostly horrified.  "Most stopped after one bite and pushed their plates away."  It sounds like he is not going to be giving away cheesecakes for Mother's Day or any other day of the year, for that matter.

Kristina also had trouble giving these away.  She took the ones she and her husband didn't eat to her office, but "only a few people were brave enough to try them.  One came back for seconds!  He loved the taste and texture...."  But Kristina "didn't get a lot of feedback from anyone else, so I'm guessing this one wasn't a huge hit!"  Who would have thought we all knew so many people who are terrified of blue cheese?

Fortunately, not everyone.  Orin's experience with her tasters was very different.  No timid tasters here--they were full of rave reviews.  "Wow, "I can't stop eating it" was one.  "What a pleasant surprise, the blue cheese is right on point" was another.  And "A well-balanced cake, just the right amount of cheese to go with the crust (Orin made her cheesecake in a tart pan), and, finally, "It will be great with a good steak."

Like Orin, Mendy made these for the Shavuot holiday, but there the resemblance ended.  Orin's "I can't stop eating it" was Mendy's "nasty little buggers."  (such an un-Mendy-like thing to say!)  Fortunately, Mendy is already raving about next week's orange tarts, and I mean raving in a good way.

As much as Mendy detested the taste of the blue cheese tarts is how much Tony was enraptured by them.  "Be still my heart," he cried.  He describes the cakes this way:  "The rich, cold complex creaminess of the cheeses is accented by a hint of a mystery nutty flavor; it’s the Stilton of course."

And For Milagritos, the experience of eating these blue cheese cheesecakes was almost Proustian in nature, with each bite bringing back memories of a wonderful dinner she and her husband shared for an anniversary, with the piece de resistance being a blue cheese ice cream, which was the best ice cream they had ever tasted.  These little Baby Blues not only reminded her of the ice cream, they also inspired her to try to recreate it, using some of the ingredients and methods from the cheesecake to duplicate this standout ice cream.  I'm sure she'll let us know if she succeeds.

Anna liked the taste of her cheesecakes, but wanted to talk about the mistakes she made:  she overbaked the cake a tad so it cracked on top (which she disguised with pear slices) and overbeat the batter, which resulted in the cake dipping a little.  But it looked good to me, and her tasters liked it, so it all ended well.  Anna worried that the blue cheese would be "a bit too exciting for this geriatric group," until her photographer pointed out that she was the "only geriatric member of the group."  (Those photographers--they're too prone to speak the truth).

I've saved Vicki's summary for last, because she wrote about her cheesecakes ("I despise blue cheese.  If it is not in a Gorgonzola sauce swimming with gnocchi, I don't want to be anywhere near it.") and how she ended up liking them despite the blue cheese and would love them without it.  But she also wrote about being an Alpha Baker, and why she persevered with the blue cheese cakes even though she hates the main ingredient.  I'll quote at length in case you  missed it:

What keeps me here instead of throwing in the dish towel?
Everything.Something new or different that I would never choose to make on my own.Or something  I've always wanted to bake but never had the nerve.
The Alpha Bakers.The little gaggle of bakers who bakeweek after week, whether it's a win or fail recipe.The recipe tales, the spectacular results,the hilarious disasters.
I feel your pain
The amazing prize worthy photography skills,and charming out of focus blurry ones, and thankfully their ability to simplify a recipeso I have a chance at understandingthe process.Their encouragement to keep soldiering on.Their cheers with any bit of success.Their willingness to instantly come to the rescueduring a catastrophe.Their kindness in never criticizing.They make it funwhen often times it really isn't.And isn't that the point of baking?Enjoyment,otherwise who's going to buy the book?
I think we all needed that, Vicki.

And another thing:  if you don't like this week's recipe, there's always next week, which is a French orange tart with not a whiff of blue cheese in sight, and which has done very well in previews.  You can use a blowtorch if you feel like brulee-ing the top, or you can just sprinkle it with powdered sugar.  And the clever Alpha Bakers will almost certainly come up with some variations.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Stilton Baby Blue Cheesecakes

You have to know your audience for this one.  I wouldn't even think of trying to give it to someone who's a picky eater or someone who doesn't like blue cheese (probably that's often the same person).  But the people who passed the picky eater test loved this as a simple, yet complex, dessert.

It has the advantage of being extremely easy to make, if you don't count the roasting and toweling of the walnuts.  I ran a little short of walnuts because my helper decided that walnuts, once they've been shorn of most of their bitter skins, are delicious, and he helped himself to my stash.

He also enjoyed putting a spoonful of ground walnuts into most of the cups, but kept asking why he couldn't eat more, so the tablespoon kept getting smaller and smaller so there'd be plenty of ground walnuts for him to nosh on.

It's his new favorite snack!

He didn't like the smell of the blue cheese though.  I chose Point Reyes Bay because it's similar to Stilton but mellower.

The batter couldn't be easier to mix up.  It was even easier for me than it should have been because my helper didn't much care for the plan of raising the speed to medium ("too loud, Lulu") or of mashing together the sour cream and cheese ("let's put everything in all at once").  Consequently, the cream cheese did not get completely incorporated, but it didn't seem to matter.

My helper thought that pouring the cheesecake batter from the measuring cup was brilliant.  I decided not to tell him it wasn't my idea.  He wanted to eat some of the batter, but recoiled when he smelled it.  You are allowed to be a picky eater if you're not quite 3 yet.

Because of Mendy's warning that the cheesecakes weren't sweet enough, I added 10 extra grams of sugar, for a total of 85 grams.  I am really getting to be a sugar scofflaw.  I also had honey at the ready to drizzle on in case it needed more sweetness.  As it turned out, my tasters thought it was plenty sweet without any extra honey.  Next time, I wouldn't add the extra 10 grams.  The pears I bought weren't quite ripe, so they didn't add much flavor.  With ripe pears and maybe just a soup├žon of honey, they really don't need any more sweetness.

I thought these were perfect for a small, light dessert that would surprise and delight people who love blue cheese and surprise and horrify people who don't.  Like I said, you have to know your audience.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Double Chocolate Oriolos

These are simple chocolate wafers which somehow become richer and more interesting the more you eat.  These cookies are really Woody's babies.  When he was at my house, he had an event to go to, and had promised to bring dozens of cookies, so he made a huge batch of these, and I helped.

JJ helped too.  This is the day he discovered that he liked walnuts, as long as they were scraped clean of their bitter-tasting skin.

Woody scrubs the walnuts much cleaner than I do when I'm in my kitchen alone with no one observing.  When Woody is in my kitchen, he says, "Those walnuts have a lot of skin left on them."  I say, "I scrubbed them in a towel."  He says, "But you didn't pick off the rest of the skin."  "Pick it off?!" I exclaim.  "That's crazy."  But I do it anyway.

Then I watch Woody prepare the dough in the food processor.  I must say, it looks very easy when someone else is doing it.  I could really get into this notion of watching someone else bake.  Woody likes to put plastic wrap over the food processor so the top doesn't get dirty.  I can see that this might be considered a good idea, but I doubt if I'll do it.  I don't think Woody feels as guilty as I do about using multitudes of plastic wrap.

"Add the flour and pulse it in until there are a lot of little moist, crumbly pieces and no dry flour particles remain."

Now it's going on a big piece of plastic wrap.  Woody doesn't think my plastic wrap is wide enough, but he's very cheerful when he complains so I don't get cross.

Woody says to be sure to tell the other Alphas that he's doing the kneading so they won't wonder why my hands have gotten hairy.

I volunteer to do the weighing and rolling into balls.  Each cookie must be 12 grams.  Woody looks truly alarmed when I tell him that if I were doing it alone, I would figure anything in the range of 10 to 15 grams would be good enough, so I hasten to add that each one will be precisely 15 grams, no more, no less, since I'm doing it for him.  He looks relieved, but I notice he keeps one eye on the scale.

Woody even brought his own little glass along from New Jersey in case I didn't have exactly the right thing.  He also brought his own cocoa.  Remember how we when we made the Pavarotti, we all agreed you had to have the very best cocoa you could afford?  I asked Woody what kind of cocoa he used, and he told me he just dumps the last bits of any kind of cocoa they have on hand in a jar, so Woody's Special Cocoa is dribs and drabs of anything.  So much for exactitude.

When they're ready to go in the oven, you can see that they're slightly askew because Woody didn't press down on the glass completely evenly.

But, as you can see, it makes not the slightest bit of difference, because they're perfectly even when they flatten out in the oven.

What I didn't get a picture of, because I think by the time this happened, Jim had put down his camera and he and Woody were drinking beer together, was the final product.  Woody had decided that he'd fill the cookies with vanilla buttercream and make a Hydrox-like cookie--an Oriolo Oreo.  It was so delicious that it made the plain Oriolos seem a little--well, plain.  Luckily for us, Woody's filled cookies were gobbled up at his event, so we didn't have too much temptation around the house.

I managed to freeze enough to use in the Bourbon Pecan Butter Balls, and I hope I don't forget about them by the time we get to that recipe.  If you don't want to freeze them for future use, and don't feel like filling them, I'll bet they'll get eaten anyway.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Catch-Up Week: Rhubarb Upside Down Cake

I had leftover rhubarb and lemon from the Blue Rhu Pie.  I had leftover sour cream from the cran-raspberry upside down cake.  So I figured I might as well do the rhubarb upside-down cake for Catch-Up week.  I guess it's a variation more than a catch-up, but I didn't have anything to catch up on, and I love rhubarb upside down cake, so it was an easy choice.

I liked this cake a lot, but I didn't like it as well as the cran-raspberry version.  And I know why.  I also know why it must drive cookbook authors completely bonkers when people fiddle around with their recipes and then criticize the recipe.  I know exactly what I did wrong, and I never thought it would make such a difference.

No problems with the rhubarb except that there was not quite enough (but I was only short 10 or 11 grams, so that wasn't the problem).  And of course the rhubarb had been in my crisper drawer for a week, but rhubarb's not that delicate.

The sugar was a mixture of dark brown muscovado and light brown regular sugar, which is the reverse of what it's supposed to be, but I didn't use too much of the dark brown muscovado, which is very dark and very intense.  I don't think that was a problem either.

I know it looks beautiful when you arrange the pieces of rhubarb, all cut in an even size and all facing the same way, in an intricate pattern, but that's not the point of upside down cake.  Upside down cake is a mix-it-up and put-it-on-the-table fast kind of dessert, right?

No, my problem came when I ran out of sour cream, and I wasn't close enough to just shrug my shoulders and move on.  But I remember that Rose has a delicious cake that uses sour cream, so I thought it should work to substitute cream cheese for some of the sour cream and heavy cream for the rest:  in other words, instead of sour cream, I had a mixture of sour cream, heavy cream, and cream cheese.  I was hoping that it would be at least as good as the original recipe, and possibly better.  But no.

And look how rich and fluffy the batter looks!  Who could blame me for thinking this would be a huge success.

The cake was dense and not soft and tender the way my first upside-down cake was,  You can also see that there are a few holes in the batter, leading me to believe that there were some air holes that didn't get smoothed out.  Oh, it wasn't a bad cake.  The flavors were still good.  But the texture of the cake definitely left something to be desired, and I think what was desired was a cook who actually followed the recipe.  I attribute this less than stellar cake to the fact that I was trying to bake just one more thing before we left for England, and my mind was scattered.  Next time I make this cake, I'll be sure to have all the sour cream I need, and then some.  

Don't let this version dissuade you from baking the rhubarb version of this cake (if you like rhubarb, that is).  Just read the directions.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Blue-Rhu Pie

When we made Black and Blueberry Pie, I said I didn't like fruit pie, but I liked this pie.  When we made Sour Cherry Pie, I said I didn't like fruit pie, but I liked this one.  Now we're on to Blue Rhu Pie, and I guess I can't say I don't like fruit pies, because this one was delicious.  Now I'll have to say I don't like fruit pies except for Rose's, which taste like real fruit and have a delicious crust.  Now I wish there were more fruit pies in the book!

I bought some pastry flour from King Arthur.  I usually use the mix of flours that Rose recommends as an alternative to pastry flour, so I was excited to have the real thing.

In all my years of hating pie crust, I've never made one that was so easy to roll out.  I don't know if it was the pastry flour, or the plastic wrap on top, or the rolling pin that I actually like to use--but something made this work.

Even before I cut off the edges to make a circle, it had a definite circular shape, and not the choppy, raggedy rhomboid that I usually end up with.

When Woody first showed me the trick with the cake pan, to invert the crust into the pie pan, I have to admit I rolled my eyes, and thought, if there's a way to make an extra step and dirty an extra dish, Rose will find it.  But now I think it's an easy way to get the crust into the pie pan intact.  And besides, Jim usually does the dishes.

I wonder if we all have rhubarb memories from our childhoods.  (Except for people who had a rhubarbless childhood, of course).  My brothers and sisters and I all loved to eat rhubarb raw, which I don't understand because it's astoundingly sour when it's raw.  I couldn't bring myself to eat a piece of it now--it makes me shudder to think of eating it.  I also liked to eat handfuls of salt.

I have no problem eating blueberries.  It actually seems a shame to cook them.

I didn't think the specified amount of sugar would be enough to sweeten the rhubarb, but I didn't want it too sweet, so I compromised by adding an extra 5 grams of sugar.  "Five grams?" Jim said.  "You're quite the rule breaker."  

The cooked rhubarb and blueberries are delicious all by themselves!  If I hadn't already made the pie dough, I would have been tempted to stop right there.

I was a little disappointed that the layer of fruit was so shallow.  It seemed like we needed more fruit, but I figured Rose had decided on the exact right amount of fruit for the crust.  I think if I make this again, I'll try about 1 1/2 times the amount and see how that works out.

I wasn't happy when I saw it was another lattice pie, but there were fewer strips and it was much easier to put together this time.  

When I cleaned out my baking equipment drawer, I found this silicone pie protector--much easier to use than the foil strips that never stay on the pie.  In fact, this worked so well that I was afraid the edges would look too white, so I removed the silicone for the last 10 minutes of baking.  That was an error in judgment because the crust got too dark.  I also used the convection setting, and ended up overbaking by about 5 minutes.

So the pie ended up getting a little darker than I would have liked.  It was still excellent.  I invited the people we're traveling to England with to come to our house and talk about what we're going to do in Keswick.  (It's very entertaining to say Keswick because, of course, it's not pronounced like it's spelled--it's more like Kezzick, which you have to say with a very bad fake British accent).  We ate pie while we were talking, but we stopped talking and just ate.   

I don't think we'll get pie like this in Keswick.