Archive for May, 2012

31
May
12

Miss Dahl’s tawny granola: a modest modification

I recently bought a cookbook from Sophie Dahl (granddaughter of Roald) that inspired me to make granola. This one from Good Habit has been my favorite lately, but it’s pricey.

Homemade granola with almond slivers, oats, balck sesame seeds, coconut flakes, honey, cardamom, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

Making your own granola is cheaper than buying it, and fresher because it hasn’t been sitting on a shelf. It also makes the whole house smell good.

Incidentally, I rarely buy cookbooks because (1) most aren’t designed to withstand the messes created during cooking, and (2) few have more than a handful of recipes that I want to try.

I still don’t know how many recipes I’ll try from Miss Dahl’s, but I did enjoy reading anecdotes from her days as a plus-size model. In her early 20s, she represented the “voluptuous” look and became its reluctant spokesperson. Needless to say, it messed with her body image but she somehow came through with a healthy attitude toward food.

To make granola, combine the dry ingredients in one bowl; the wet ingredients and spices in the other.

Make sure to evenly moisten all the dry ingredients as you stir them into the wet ones, or they could burn. Those scary-looking things are black sesame seeds.

Back to the granola: you’ll find the recipe on Le Quatre-Heures, along with some useful baking tips. What’s nice about making your own is that it’s easy, you can control the sweetness, it’s less expensive than buying it, and most any combination of ingredients will work.

For instance, I didn’t have the apple juice, pumpkin seeds, or allspice the recipe calls for. And why buy an entire carton of juice just to use 2 tablespoons? So I substituted water, black sesame seeds from the Asian supermarket (they taste like mild peanuts and are good for hair growth, according to my mom), and cardamom. I also left out the dried apricots. Really, you can use most kinds of seeds, nuts, fruits, and spices so long as you mind the proportions.

Next time I make this, I’m going to lower the temperature to 300 degrees. About 1/5 of my batch burned. The rest, though, was delicious and quickly consumed.

27
May
12

Macaron Bee opens. Georgetown becomes even more dangerous for the pancreatically challenged.

Not only are there a bunch of ice cream, pie, and cupcake places in Georgetown, but also more than a handful of European cafes (Paul, Patisserie Poupon, Dolcezza, Kafe Leopold) pushing buttery pastries. Last weekend, Macaron Bee entered the fray on Wisconsin Avenue. It’s a tiny boutique that sells only French macarons, like Macaron Cafe in NY.

Macaron Bee offers classics like coconut, chocolate, and pistachio--plus more exotic flavors like blood orange, lavender chocolate, and gianduja.

My haul from Macaron Bee. They carry about a dozen flavors every day, ranging from the expected (chocolate, pistachio) to the exotic (blood orange, chocolate lavender).

The owners are an Asian couple who seem to know their stuff when it comes to this fetishized French cookie. For $1.75, you get a macaron with just the right crunch, giving way to chewy centers and not-too-sweet fillings. The cookies’ consistency and flavors held up in sweaty 90-degree weather–even after a day in the fridge.

Macaron Bee is a few doors down from Patiesserie Poupon in Georgetown.

The store is a bit of a schlep up Wisconsin Avenue, a few doors north of Patisserie Poupon.

I do have a small beef with the fillings, though. For instance, I want a salted caramel filling in its namesake macaron. These had more of a buttercream, which threw me off. Macaron Bee fares better with the fruit (jelly) fillings and chocolate fillings, where the consistency doesn’t remind me of biting down on a pat of Land O’Lakes.

The inside of Macaron Bee is a macaron fan's wet dream.

Rows upon rows of macarons greet you as you enter the tiny store.

I was impressed with the attention to detail that went into making these cookies. The gianduja had chopped hazelnuts adorning the outer cookie; the salted caramel, salt granules; etc. Minor detail, but this helped me figure out which flavor was what when I left the store.

The owners’ meticulousness is also obvious in their packaging. The adorable boxes are made for gifting–check out those bees leaving a trail of macarons in their wake (above).

Macaron Bee offers your standard flavors, and some more exotic ones.

Flavors, clockwise starting at 9 o’clock: salted caramel, blood orange, chocolate lavender, coconut, raspberry, pistachio, blood orange, and milk chocolate passionfruit.

20
May
12

Massaging balls & forking: what I did in the name of peanut butter cookies

Making cookies can be a pain in the rear end, especially if the dough is hard to work with. These peanut butter cookies were particularly trying because the dough turned out like wet sand: too dry to hold together. Based on user complaints that the cookies were turning out too thin, I modified the recipe by adding 1/2 cup of peanut butter and 1/2 cup of flour. The consensus among commenters was that this was the right proportion. But it probably could’ve used another egg, too.

I sprinkled this batch with Kosher salt instead of forking the tops.

As a result, I had to massage each ball, kneading them like Play-Doh until the dough was the right consistency. Then on my first tray, I used a fork to make the traditional cross-hatch pattern you see on peanut butter cookies. But this process caused some of the cookies to begin breaking apart again. Patience running thin, I decided to forgo the forking, instead sprinkling a bit of Kosher salt on top before putting the remaining cookies in the oven. Fortunately, these turned out tasty (crunchy on the outside, soft in the middle) and the salt adds a nice touch, used sparingly.

The recipe, including the modifications below, made almost 4 dozen and takes a much more patient baker than me.

Modifications:

  • Additional 1/2 cup peanut butter, totaling 1.5 cups or about 1 jar
  • Additional 1/2 cup flour
  • Creamy peanut butter, since that’s what I had handy
  • Pinch of Kosher salt sprinkled on top before putting into the oven
  • Baking time was 10 minutes per baking sheet of 9 cookies
11
May
12

Earl Grey shortbread. If I can, you can too!

This recipe, which was featured recently on Gojee, made me wonder (1) why I don’t drink Earl Grey more often, and (2) why I’ve never made shortbread before. It’s frickin’ easy (and I say this as someone who’s had many a baking disaster), especially when you consider how difficult some cookies doughs can be to work with. Shortbread is basically just flour, butter, and sugar. It doesn’t have eggs, so it doesn’t get sticky. You don’t need to flour your counter to prevent the dough from sticking when you roll it–awesome.

I used 7 decaf Bigelow teabags for the 2 tablespoons the recipe calls for (not a fantastic brand of tea, but cheap!). You can’t buy the fancy whole-leaf teas for this because you need it finely ground.

My modifications to the recipe: I used 1 stick of regular unsalted butter, and 1 stick of higher-fat European butter, just because I had the latter lying around. The recipe made 2 cookie trays’ worth. So halfway through the baking, I switched the baking sheets to the other rack to ensure even baking. I baked mine for at least 5 minutes more than the recommended 12 minutes. Just make sure to monitor them after the 10-minute mark. The shortbread is done when the edges are browned. Straight out of the oven, they’re soft, but will harden after cooling.

We’ve been eating these with ice cream for that butter-cream 1-2 punch. Mmmmm.

08
May
12

Maple Avenue’s sweet treats

Sometimes you gotta venture out of your comfort zone to try new things. For a belated birthday brunch, I recently took Mr. X-sXe to Maple Avenue Restaurant in Vienna, VA—that exotic state where you can still get plastic grocery bags for free.

The dining space is tiny, probably less than 10 tables with no separate foyer/entrance area. We went for the brunch tasting menu. The food was consistently good: a gooey mac and cheese with panko, a savory mushroom crepe, cauliflower with Thai sauce and a sprinkling of scallions. But there were a few hints that the menu needed more thought.

The feast launches with a charcuterie plate—something I don’t necessarily have an appetite for first thing in the morning. Also, my stomach was hoping for some respite from the parade of heavy dishes coming out back-to-back. I craved a salad or fruit dish to cut the fat in this meat-and-dairy show. (Mind you, the set menu does change regularly.)

And now we turn to the most important part of the meal: dessert.

Yuzu-lime tart (above photo)

Wow, right? This was beautiful—its marshmallow peaks perfectly torched, blanketing the citrusy filling on a thick graham crust. Perhaps this wasn’t the chef’s intent, but anytime I see “lime” on a dessert menu, I’m hoping for some mouth-puckering action. Here the sweetness of the marshmallow fluff actually overwhelmed the delicate flavor of the yuzu-lime filling. Note: we ordered this separately from the tasting menu.

Waffles with Nutella and vanilla bean ice cream (part of the brunch tasting menu)

Sure, this elevates the waffles you’d get at the breakfast bar of a Comfort Inn. But is it good enough to warrant being on the menu of a nice restaurant? I’m leaning towards no. I was curious whether the Nutella was from the jar or made in-house. The menu didn’t elaborate on this point, but it tasted like the jar stuff (which is NOT health food, despite what the ads claim. Hence the class-action lawsuit. #onlyinAmerica).

02
May
12

Los angeles dessert haikus

A bit of wisdom served up on Santa Monica Pier.

We’ve been on blog break because we were eating our way through LA, trying sweets from various restaurants and bakeries. While we had some good ones (the coconut bavarois from Red Medicine is now a fond memory), most were unspectacular. We also tried one patisserie (Jin in Venice) that made us all-the-more grateful for Bethesda’s Tout de Sweet. As much as I wanted to like Jin–Asian owner, picturesque outdoor seating, tempting selection of lunch options–the goods just didn’t deliver.

A rundown of the sugar tour:

 

Red Medicine:

Coconut dessert

In a tropical ant farm

Reluctant to share

Bitter chocolate

Ruined by string of butter

Pastry chef misstep

 

Gjelina:

Famous pot de creme

JELL-O pudding on steroids

It’s salty! It’s sweet!

Strawberry rhubarb

A crisp more like a pot pie

Overly soupy

 Jin Patisserie:

Macarons and cake

A feast for the eyes, not mouth

Post-dessert remorse

Lavender-almond

Sesame-peanut cookies

Jin redeems itself?

 

Tender Greens:

Caramel cupcake

Like midget banana bread

Icing overload

 

Cake Monkey:

Two kinds of cookies

Both chocolatey sandwiches

Unmemorable