January 18, 2009

still cooking

Still not writing. Instead, experimenting with desserts. It's "would you still love me?" week at my house for baking. What if I add too much of something? Or don't have a particular ingredient at all? Will I still be a worthwhile person and will the recipe work out and how is this related to me getting into grad school? So far all the desserts have turned out fine, and no one has disowned me for fucking them up. Maybe I'll get into grad school after all.

Two weeks ago I made the Cook's Illustrated coconut cream pie with bananas and caramel on the bottom. The recipe has a lot of moving parts, which kept hitting me over the head like the workshop tools in the Pirates of the Caribbean fight scene. I bought the crust, because last time I made a graham cracker crust it was more like graham cracker crumbs weakly coating the outside of some custard. The store-bought one held together much better. But no sooner had I heated the milk, the coconut milk, and the unsweetened coconut than I realized I didn't have enough eggs. To the co-op! Which was out of eggs! Fortunately a friend was working there: he offered me as many eggs as I needed from his own refrigerator if I'd go to his house and bring his dog back over. Great. I got to pretend I have a dog for 15 minutes while I picked up my two eggs. When I got home, I realized that I actually needed three eggs. I had to wait til the next day to make the custard, but ultimately triumphed.

The pie was awesome. The custard is good enough to be a stand-alone recipe. To convert it to banana-caramel, per the suggestion of the original recipe, I just made caramel sauce (half of the recipe lower down in this post), poured the caramel into the crust, sprinkled in some toasted coconut, sliced up a banana and arranged it on the caramel, and then added the custard. I did not top the custard with a full layer of whipped cream, because I've done that before and it dilutes the coconut flavor. Instead, just a dab of whipped cream on top. If I'd had it, I would have added black rum to the whipped cream, though vanilla is also very good with coconut.

Last night: Gramercy Tavern Gingerbread, from Smitten Kitchen, which I discovered earlier this week and love. Also delicious. I added an extra half tablespoon of ginger, a little more of the other spices, and an extra teaspoon of baking powder. That last entirely by accident. The cake completely collapsed in the middle, but its deliciousness remained, especially eaten with caramel sauce and maple-bourbon whipped cream. Use plenty of bourbon.

Speaking of caramel sauce, I don't understand why people don't make it more often. It's easy, and forgiving. This time I accidentally put the cream in before the butter, and for a while I thought I was going to end up with a floating layer of butter on top of my caramel. Fortunately, it mixed in eventually.

Caramel Sauce
1 c. sugar
5 Tbsp water
1/4 c. butter
1 c. whipping cream
salt to taste

Combine the sugar and water in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Stir. Heat gently until bubbling slightly, then turn the heat up to medium high. Let boil without stirring (original recipe says to use a wet pastry brush to get crystals off the sides - do this if you want, but all that happens if you don't is that it burns a little on the side and you need to give it more soaking and scrubbing.)

Eventually the sugar starts to caramelize. Swirl and stir it - the edges will be darker, and you want to see the combined color. When it's the color you want (I like burny dark caramel, but you can experiment) turn the heat off. Whisk in the butter, then the cream. The caramel will bubble up furiously and maybe crack a little, and the sugar will tend to form a sticky tangle. Stir over low heat until everything is smooth. Add salt and taste. You can also add vanilla or other flavorings here, though I've been wondering what would happen if I mixed the sugar with Earl Grey instead of water.

Just made chocolate-chip coconut meringues, because we had left-over egg whites, and tried science to discover the relative merits of greased-and-floured versus plain baking surfaces when you don't have parchment paper. Or cookie sheets, but all our alternatives are Pyrex. No science there. Surprise! If you grease and flour the pan, the meringues stick less.

The recipe is for Almond Rochers. We didn't have almonds, but there was a penciled note suggesting coconut and chocolate chips instead. We didn't have enough chocolate chips, so I just added some extra coconut (left over from the cream pie). They turned out beautifully: the recipe (which I'm not posting right now; maybe tomorrow) has you warm the egg whites and sugar before you beat them, and the residual heat melts the chocolate just a little, so that it's streaky instead of chunky. They make interesting stripey organic forms, kind of like less regular, flat-bottomed pollen particles. Yummy yummy allergens.

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