Friday, November 18, 2005

And Finally...

At long last, after 6 semi-successful tries and 2 disasters, I think I got as close to a macaron as I hope to get with what is available to me. My homemade almond flour is still a little coarse --and will be, as long as I do not replace that ancient food processor-- so my macarons do not have smooth tops; but they do have tiny feet! That delicious crunch at first bite, followed by the melt-in-your-mouth sensation is also there. A few of the macarons I piped at the end developed irregular feet, so I guess I have to work on my piping technique. And maybe, just maybe, I have to rap that baking sheet harder to settle the macarons. But otherwise, I am pleased, in fact ecstatic, with the results. Now, I hope that I can consistently get similar results with my future trials.

The recipe I used was David Lebovitz's. (Thanks for the link Renne and Mine.) I have to say that I still find my feetless, cracked-top macarons using Pierre Herme's recipe more delicious. I wish I can get his recipe to work for me one day. David Lebovitz's oven temperature and baking period did not work for me, so I preheated the oven to 375F but lowered to 350F as soon as I put my tray in. Also I baked for 10 minutes rather than 15 to 18 as he suggested.

This was really challenging! In fact, I do not remember anything else that challenged me in the kitchen this much and for this long. But with 8 trials, I am proud to stand somewhere between David Lebovitz and Dorie Greenspan (with 13 trials).

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

2 Date Cakes and 2 Date Cookies

Dates are packed with vitamin C and fiber, and I should probably be eating more of them. Having said that, I have to confess that I find them a bit too sweet. In fact a Medjool date is enough to take away my appetite for dessert after dinner. Of course, I would rather have dessert instead, and that's where desserts with dates come into the picture. They are not quite as sweet as the date itself (at least, that's how I feel), you still get the benefits, and you've had your dessert, too. I can live with such a compromise.

This week, we had a Turkish blog event featuring dates. As usual, I left my baking to the last minute and ended up making 2 cakes and 2 cookies in one afternoon. But since I am pleased with the results, I'll say that it was worth the rush.

Ma'moul (adapted from Mediterranean the Beautiful Cookbook)

This is a melt-in-your-mouth kind of a cookie. The original uses a little more sugar in the dough, but I did not find it necessary. The original recipe also used cinnamon as a flavoring and suggested rosewater as an alternative to orange flower water. With half of the cookie dough and filling, I made the pinwheel cookies you see in the picture. They required some refrigeration before cutting, and I baked them at a slightly higher oven temperature --I am not sure if this was even really necessary; otherwise, everything was the same.
  • 1 lb pitted dates
  • 3/4 c water
  • Grated zest of 1 orange
  • 1 c unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 tbs sugar
  • 2 c sifted flour
  • 1 tbs orange flower water
  • 2-4 tbs milk
  • Powdered sugar
In a saucepan combine the dates and water. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until a paste forms. Add the orange zest and let cool.

Beat the butter with sugar. Beat in the flour and add the orange flower water and milk. Knead with your hands until the dough holds together. Take walnut sized pieces of the dough and roll into a ball . Make an indentation in the center and fill with the date filling. Carefully cover the dough over the filling. Place the cookies on an ungreased cookie pan and bake in a preheated 300F oven for about 20 minutes. Do not let them brown. Roll them in powdered sugar while still warm.

Chocolate Fruit Cake
(from Cocolat)

I tried this one for the first time. It combines dates and nuts with chocolate and coffee. The dates and buttermilk in the recipe make this a tender and delicious cake which tastes even better the next day. Unfortunately, all the yummy stuff sank to the bottom, but otherwise, we loved this cake and enjoyed it to the last crumb. The ingredients given below make 2 loaves.
  • 3 c coarsely chopped dates
  • 1 1/2 c coarsely chopped walnuts (I used pecans)
  • 2 1/4 c sifted flour
  • 1/2 sifted cocoa
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tbs instant coffee powder
  • 3 tbs hot water
  • 1 c buttermilk
  • 12 oz butter, at room temperature
  • 2 3/4 c sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 6 large eggs
Preheat oven to 350F. Grease or spray two 7-8 c ring molds or loaf pans. (I halved the recipe and used a 8"x4" loaf pan. This proved small for the amount of batter on hand. I think a 9"x5" would be better.) Toss the dates and walnuts with 2 tbs of the flour and separate the pieces of stuck dates as much as you can. Set aside.

Sift together the remaining flour, cocoa, baking powder , baking soda and salt. Dissolve the coffee powder in the hot water. Add this to the buttermilk. (Since I had no buttermilk, I used the lemon juice and milk substitution.) Alice Medrich says to make sure that this mixture is at room temperature; if not warm slightly.

Beat the butter well as you slowly add the sugar and vanilla. Then add the eggs one by one and beat after each addition. Add the dry ingredients in 3 parts, alternating with the buttermilk-coffee mixture. Do not overdo the beating. After each addition, you should beat only until the ingredients are incorporated. Finally fold in the dates and the nuts and pour the batter into the prepared pans.

Bake until the sides start to shrink away from the pans and the toothpick test turns a dry toothpick. (50-55 minutes.) Cool pans on rack for 5 minutes; then unmold carefully.

St. Nicholas Cake
(a Four Seasons recipe)

I copied this recipe years ago from a borrowed Four Seasons cookbook and it has since become a holiday tradition in our house. It is almost all fruit and nuts with just enough orange zest perfumed batter to bind them. The ingredients below make 3-9"x5" loaves. (I quartered the recipe and baked my loaf in a 8"x4" pan.)
  • 8 cups pitted whole dates (about 3 lb)
  • 8 c walnut halves (about 1 3/4 lb) (I used pecans)
  • 1 c candied cherries (I used maraschino cherries)
  • 1/2 c flour
  • 6 eggs, separated and at room temperature
  • 3/4 c sugar
  • 3/4 c brown sugar
  • 6 tbs butter, melted
  • 4 1/2 tbs heavy cream
  • 2 tbs vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp grated orange zest
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract.
  • 1 1/2 c wheat flour
  • 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
Preheat the oven to 325F. Line the insides of 3- 9"x5" loaf pans with foil and grease the foil. Combine the dates, nuts and cherries in a large bowl. Sprinkle the fruit and nuts with 1/2 c flour, and toss well, making sure that you separate the dates with your fingers.

Beat the egg yolks with the sugars until light and fluffy. Add the melted butter, cream, vanilla, zest and almond extract and beat to mix. Now mix the whole-wheat flour and baking powder in a small bowl; and stir into the egg mixture with a wooden spoon.

Beat the egg whites just until stiff peaks start to form. Add a quarter of the whites to the batter to lighten it, and then fold in the rest. Pour the batter over the fruit-nut mixture and stir to coat. Spoon evenly into prepared pans and mound the batter slightly in each pan. Cover the pans with buttered foil. Bake 40 minutes and remove the foil. Bake for another 15-20 minutes or until the centers are firm to touch. Cool the cakes in the pans. When cool, remove from the pans, and wrap tightly in foil to store. The fruitcake can be eaten the next day or stored in a cool place up to 2 weeks.