Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Homemade Oreos

Thomas Keller's Oreos

White and dark chocolate filled cocoa cookies: the sophisticated Oreo.  The first bite of these cookies sends you traveling back to a stress-free time with flavors of the salty cookie and sweet chocolate filling. It is the ultimate balance.  It's like the cookie goes inside your brain and pushes the nostalgia button.  Yeah, it's that good.

Thomas Keller's Oreos
from The Essence of Chocolate, by Robert Steinberg and John Scharffenberger

3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour plus 3 tablespoons
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa plus 1 tablespoon
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
15 tablespoons (7 1/2 oz) unsalted butter, cut into 3/4-inch cubes, at room temperature

1/2 cup heavy cream
6 oz white chocolate, finely chopped
2 oz dark chocolate, finely chopped

To make the filling: In a small saucepan, bring the 1/3 cup of cream to a boil over medium heat. Remove the pan from the heat and add the white chocolate, making sure it is all immersed in the cream. Let stand for 1 minute then whisk to completely melt the chocolate and incorporate it.

Transfer the filling to a small bowl and let it stand for 6 hours, or until it thickens enough to spread. If the filling hardens too much, it can be rewarmed in the microwave.  Repeat the same steps for the dark chocolate filling with the remaining cream.

To make the cookies: Preheat oven to 350 F with racks in the upper and lower thirds. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt on low speed until combined. With the mixer still on low speed, add the butter a few pieces at a time until it is all in the bowl. The dough will be sandy at first, but it will eventually begin to come together. When it does, stop the mixer.

Transfer the dough to a work surface and form it into a block about 5 by 7 inches. Cut the block into 2 pieces. Working with one half at a time, roll the dough on a lightly floured work surface until it is 1/8-inch thick. Using a 2-inch round cookie cutter, cut rounds from the dough and place them 1/2 to 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheets. You can reroll the scraps of dough once to cut more cookies.

Bake for 12 minutes, rotating the baking sheets halfway through. Remove the baking sheets from the oven and let the cookies cool on them for 5 minutes.  Transfer to a wire rack and let the cookies cool completely.

To assemble the cookies: Turn half of the cookies over so the side that was down on the baking sheet faces up. Whisk the filling briefly to fluff it up. Transfer the filling to a pastry bag and cut a small hole in the tip of the bag. Pipe about 1 1/2 teaspoons of the white chocolate filling in the center of each cookie you flipped over. Top with another cookie, which is filled with the dark chocolate filling and gently press the cookies together until the filling spreads evenly to the edge. The cookies keep in an airtight container for 3 days.

Makes about 24 sandwich cookies

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Fig and Mint Tart

Fig and Mint Tartlet
This deliciously satisfying, elegant miniature tart has a cream cheese and honey filling and topped with fresh figs, mint and pistachios.  Figs are thought to have been first cultivated in Egypt. They spread to Ancient Greece and Rome were later introduced to other regions of the Mediterranean by ancient conquerors and then brought to the Western Hemisphere by the Spaniards in the early 16th century. In the late 19th century, when Spanish missionaries established the mission in San Diego, California, they also planted fig trees.

Enjoy the flavors of  fall?  Try my pumpkin french toast!

Therapeutic topic of the week: 
by Marc David, founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating

The key to understanding the profound link between metabolism and stress is the central nervous system (CNS). The portion of the CNS that exerts the greatest influence on gastrointestinal function is called the autonomic nervous system (ANS). This aspect of the nervous system is responsible for getting your stomach churning, the enzymatic secretions in the digestive process flowing, and keeping the dynamic process of nutrient absorption into the bloodstream on the move. The ANS also tells your body when not to be in digesting mode, such as when there’s no food in your belly or when you’re in fight-or-flight response.

Two subdivisions of the ANS help it accomplish its dual task of digestive arousal and digestive inhibition: the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches. The sympathetic branch activates the stress response and suppresses digestive activity. The parasympathetic branch relaxes the body and activates digestion. It might be helpful to think of these two parts of the nervous system as on-and-off switches.

Simply put, the same part of our brain that turns on stress turns off digestion. And conversely, the part of the brain that turns on the relaxation response turns on full, healthy digestive power. Eating healthy food is only half of the story of good nutrition. Being in the ideal start to digest and assimilate food is the other half.

Here’s a favorite client story of mine that will help make things a little more practical when it comes to the stress/digestion connection:

Chen, a charismatic forty-six-year-old doctor of Chinese medicine, was plagued by nagging digestive upset despite overall great health and a vast knowledge of natural healing. He felt that maybe it was time to look at his diet and requested my help. When I asked some basic questions about his eating habits, I was quite surprised by the answer. Chen would stop at McDonalds on his way to work and eat two Egg McMuffins for breakfast in the car while rushing through city traffic. For lunch he’d zip to the same McDonalds and eat two Big Macs in the car as he drove back to the office. After work, he ate two slices of pizza. Chen informed me that he wanted to feel better but he wasn’t willing to cook, bring a lunch to work, eat vegetables, or give up McDonalds. Go figure.

I told him I suspected I could actually help him despite the impossible limitations he was giving me to work with. Here is the simple strategy to which Chen reluctantly agreed. He had to eat his Big Macs while the car was parked and take twenty minutes to enjoy them slowly and sensually. I asked him to do the same with his Egg McMuffins at breakfast. He needed to take time to slow down with food, and with life. He needed to breathe deeply before, during, and after his meals.

Two weeks later Chen called me in an excited state with some wonderful news to tell. First, his digestive symptoms had disappeared. And then he said, “You won’t believe this, really, but I hate Big Macs. I’ve been eating them for fifteen years and I can’t stand them. Have you ever tried to savor a Big Mac? You can’t. You have to eat it fast and smother it with lots of ketchup to hide the taste.”

Chen was not a relaxed eater. He had plenty of patients to see throughout the day and seemingly little time for self-nourishment. The simple act of taking time to slow down and eat shifted him from sympathetic to parasympathetic dominance, and his digestive upset quickly disappeared. When this happened, his body wisdom was finally able to give him feedback about his food choices, and he subsequently gave up Big Macs naturally and effortlessly. He didn’t need to use his willpower to resist a favorite food or exert mental force to make better choices. All he did was savor a Big Mac.

Are you beginning to understand the metabolic power of relaxation? Can you see how eating in the natural and necessary state of parasympathetic dominance can yield breakthroughs with food and metabolism?

Fig and Cream Cheese Tartlette Recipe

1 lb my homemade or store-bought pastry dough
All-purpose flour, for dusting
1 cup whipping cream
3/4 cup (5 1/2 oz) cream cheese
3 tbsp of honey
1 tbsp orange juice
12 to 16 figs, each cut into 6 pieces
Handful of green shelled pistachios, halved
1 bunch of fresh mint, ripped or roughly torn
Special equipment: miniature round tartlette fluted pans

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Roll out the pastry on a floured counter to the thickness of a 1/4 inch and use it to carefully line the pan. Homemade pastry is will be quite crumbly. Don't worry, you can patch it together in the pan. Press the a plastic straw against the pastry all round the edges to coax it into the fluted grooves. Trim off the excess around the top. Put in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes, or until firm.

Remove the tart from the refrigerator. Take a piece of parchment paper slightly larger than the pan and scrunch it up, then unscrunch it and line the pan with it. Fill it with pie weights or dried beans and "blind bake" in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes. Remove the paper and bake for an additional 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside.

For the filling, put the cream in a bowl and whip until beginning to thicken, then fold it into the cream cheese and mix with the honey and juice. Put the filling in the tart case, then arrange the figs on top and scatter over the nuts and mint.

Tip: This tart is best eaten on the day it is made.

Adapted from Lorraine Pascale

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Gluten Free Cupcakes

Gluten-Free Cardamom Cupcake with White Chocolate Buttercream

Finally, a cupcake you don't feel so bad about. This was my first time experimenting with rice flour and it made my cakes light and fluffy and moist. The hint of cardamom and the delicate sweetness from the white chocolate was perfect.

Gluten-Free Cardamom Cupcakes with White Chocolate Buttercream Recipe

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1/2 cup boiling water
6 eggs, separated
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar, divided
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups rice flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk

For the Chocolate-Cardamom Ganache
1 teaspoon cardamom pods, crushed
1/2 cup chopped bittersweet chocolate
1/2 cup heavy cream

For the White Chocolate Buttercream
5 large egg whites
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
Pinch of salt
1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons, room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
5 oz good quality white chocolate, melted, cooled


Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  Line a muffin tin with cupcake liners.

Melt the chocolate in the boiling water. In a small mixing bowl, beat the egg whites until frothy and stiff but not dry. Add 1/2 cup sugar and beat until stiff but not dry. Set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter with remaining 1 1/2 cups sugar and vanilla on medium speed until fluffy. Add the egg yolks and beat well. Blend in the melted chocolate. Sift together the rice flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Alternate adding the flour mixture and the buttermilk to the chocolate mixture, beating after each addition until smooth. 

For the ganache: Crush the cardamom in a spice grinder. Place the chocolate in a large heatproof bowl. Bring the cream and cardamom just to a simmer over medium-high heat; pour the mixture over the chocolate. Let stand, without stirring, until cool. Beginning near the center and working outward, stir the melted chocolate into the cream until the mixture is combined and smooth (do not over stir).

Fold in the Chocolate-Cardamom Ganache into the batter. Fold in the beaten whites. Fill the cupcake liners halfway and bake for 12 to 15 minutes.

For the buttercream: Combine egg whites, sugar, and salt in the heatproof bowl of a standing mixer set over a pan of simmering water. Whisk constantly by hand until mixture is warm to the touch and sugar has dissolved.

Attach the bowl to the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Starting on low and gradually increasing to medium-high speed, whisk until stiff peaks form. Continue mixing until the mixture is fluffy and glossy, and completely cool, about 10 minutes.

With mixer on medium-low speed, add the butter a few tablespoons at a time, mixing well after each addition. Once all butter has been added, whisk in vanilla. Using a flexible spatula, fold white chocolate into buttercream mixture. Switch to the paddle attachment, and continue beating on low speed until all air bubbles are eliminated, about 2 minutes. Scrape down sides of bowl with a flexible spatula, and continue beating until the frosting is completely smooth. Keep buttercream at room temperature if using the same day.

To assemble: When the cupcakes are cool to the touch, prepare a pastry bag fitted with a large star tip. Fill the bag with Chocolate Buttercream and pipe the tops of each cupcake.

Cake recipe adapted from Hollis Wilder via Food Network

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Blackberry Coffee Cake

Blackberry Coffee Cake
A firm, moist cake with bursts of fruity blackberries topped with a delicious crumble of brown sugar and chocolate.  Genius is the person who invented coffee cake but then made it even better by adding berries and chocolate.  Coffee cake is meant to be eaten with coffee, obviously.  The sweetness of the cake helps balance the bitterness of the coffee and we are in harmony.  Where did coffee cake originate?  Food historians generally agree the concept of coffee cake most likely originated in Northern/Central Europe sometime in the 17th century. Why this place and time? These countries were already known for their traditional for sweet yeast breads. When coffee was introduced to Europe these cakes were a natural accompaniment. German, Dutch, and Scandinavian immigrants brought their coffee cake recipes with them to America. The first coffee cake-type foods were more like bread than cake. They were simple concoctions of yeast, flour, eggs, sugar, nuts, dried fruit and sweet spices. Over time, coffee cake recipes changed. Sugared fruit, cheese, yogurt and other creamy fillings are often used in today's American coffee cake recipes.

Therapeutic topic of the week:  Explaining the Psychology of Comfort Food

by Anneli Rufus June 22, 2011

When the recession hit, you could hear the words buzzing from the cell phones of every restaurant consultant in America: "It's time for comfort food." But under the mashed potatoes and meatloaf lies a question: What does "comfort food" really mean? What about it actually comforts us?

Let's look at some big-time comfort foods: Fried chicken. French fries. Chocolate cake. When people talk about comfort food, the obvious explanation is that it's all about nostalgia and missing Mommy. But that's also cultural. Look at lutefisk, natto and the reddish-black blood sausage I was served once by a sad Belgian who took comfort in what struck me as something you might see in a hospital. And really, it takes more than this to create the rush of sensations that make us feel safe, calm, and cared for. It's a complex interplay of memory, history, and brain chemistry, and while some basics apply — most of us are soothed by the soft, sweet, smooth, salty and unctuous — the specifics are highly personal.

In a certain cheese shop in my town, there is a rack of rolls. Gleaming golden outside and airy, stretchy, satiny inside, they're sourdough and only vaguely square as if cut by clowns. One fits in my palm, then my sweatshirt pocket, which it must because this is the acid test by which I define comfort food: It's small. It's portable. It can be consumed silently. My comfort food must never call attention to itself. It must be dazzlingly bland, like Zen koans. Rolls. Marshmallows. Mochi. One round bowl of rice.

For you, of course, it's something else. Celery, say, or vindaloo or wings. A friend of mine craves slick, sticky, flamboyant food that she can stir with slow, exaggerated swirls to make a sucking sound. This is her comfort food.

When you begin to eat, your eyes, hands and mouth start the chain of command. Then the brain kicks in. Sugar and starch spur serotonin, a neurotransmitter known to increase a sense of well-being. (It's what makes Prozac work.) Salty foods spur oxytocin, aka the "cuddle chemical," a hormone that is also spiked by hugs and orgasm. Hence, potato chips. Mice unable to taste the difference between regular and extra-high-calorie food in a recent study preferred the high-calorie kind, which suggests that fattening food appeals simply because it is fattening. Which makes sense, given how much fuel our prehistoric ancestors burned crisscrossing savannahs, fleeing carnivores and chasing prey. Fat is a good balm for the fear of starvation.

There's also how the brain links emotion, memory, and sensory stimuli. Popsicles nibbled to break childhood fevers, pizza when your track team won, coconut on your honeymoon: The brain associates good experiences with specific flavors, fragrances and textures, coding them as harbingers of happiness. Henceforth, even when you neither have a fever nor have won a race, eating Popsicles still brings the rush of relief and pizza feels like a reward.

But buried in this (like the caramel at the heart of a Milk Dud) is the deeper question of what counts as comfort.

Neuroscientists define it as the opposite of stress. Whether with pharmaceuticals or firearms or flannel sheets or funnel cake, we seek to de-stress by any means necessary. The brain reaches its relaxed, restorative comfort state when we feel safe and/or when we receive rewards and/or when we feel part of something bigger than ourselves – a culture or a community.

Security, reward, and connectedness: Each of these three feelings activates a different portion of the brain, and each of these is more or less crucial to each of us, which further explains why we don't all relish the same comfort foods. A competitive person or one who feels chronically undervalued cherishes foods that the brain has coded as rewards. A loner finds no comfort in those foods the brain links with community. An abused person who lives in fear might hoard safety foods.

When we feel endangered, unsung and/or lonesome, we eat.

Food is a fort we build. Rolls in my pocket feel like ballast. As a former anorexic, I imagine they will keep me safe because they are small, round, clean, dry and can be eaten stealthily. Someone else might feel most secure when eating pudding, say, because she ate it in the playroom before knowing the meaning of pain.

Food is the gift we give ourselves. My husband beams as if it's Christmas whenever Sriracha sauce or tonsil-searing salsa make him sweat. His Jewish/Danish DNA never predicted this. He grew up in a capsicum-free home. Yet kimchee signals "treat" to him, because hot-spicy foods were his private discovery, not something that was ever given to him but something he gave himself. They are his prize, and thus they comfort him in that explosive, pore-widening way by which hot saunas heal. (Which makes me think: Is it reincarnation? Given that some people find comfort in what they grew up with, and others specifically in what they didn't grow up with, do we choose our comfort foods or do they choose us? Does this process parallel the ways in which we acquire other preferences — for bondage, say, or for stiletto heels or hairy men?)

Food is also the friend who never disappoints or ditches us. Psychologists call comfort food a "social surrogate" — in other words, not quite replacing real companions but reminding us of them. Participants in yet another recent study felt less lonely after writing about—and not even necessarily eating—comfort foods. The psychologists who designed that study theorized correctly that consuming comfort foods soothes us in the exact same ways as wearing our favorite clothes or watching our favorite TV shows. Reminding us of those who love us and/or look and talk like us, comfort food also reminds us of who we are. Away from home, we seek the foods of home.

Of course, all matters of psychology are unrelentingly complex. Comfort food feels good, but — for some of us — in that first rush is also a twinge: For some, comfort food invokes a special hot-faced shame because both food and comfort are so intimate, and using one to do the other borders on self-pleasure. From there, it's just one small step to guilty pleasure, which is what most of us would call caramel corn and curly fries. Perhaps it's because in this crowded, hard world, we have convinced ourselves that seeking comfort is itself embarrassing, as if need makes us weak. We are ashamed to crave the salty, starchy, soft, unctuous and sweet, because we tell ourselves we are too smart to want what the judgmental would call junk—although, surrounded by food that is market-tested to appeal to our most primal urges, we don't stand a chance. If comfort food exposes those urges, a drive-thru window can become a harsh confessional.

Blackberry Coffee Cake Recipe

1/2 packed cup light brown sugar
2 tbsp. flour
1 tbsp. butter
1/2 oz. semisweet chocolate, finely chopped

1 cup flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/3 cup buttermilk
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/3 cup butter, melted and cooled
1 1/4 cups fresh blackberries

1. For the topping, in a bowl, combine brown sugar, flour, and butter. Using your hands, mix thoroughly, then add chocolate. Mix well with a wooden spoon and set aside.

2. For the cake, preheat oven to 375°. Sift flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together into a medium bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together buttermilk, egg, vanilla, and melted butter. Add buttermilk mixture to flour mixture and mix with a wooden spoon.

3. Pour batter into a lightly greased 8'' round springform cake pan. Sprinkle raspberries over cake, then cover with topping. Bake until well-browned, 40–45 minutes. Serve warm.

Adapted from Saveur

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