Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Matzo Balls and Chicken Soup

I guess you could tell that this isn't dessert, but it will shortly be Passover and I couldn't pass up the opportunity to put in our favorite Passover food (we really like charoses, too) .
Some people like matzo balls that are lead sinkers - others like them light as a feather. With slight variations in the recipe, you can produce the exact kind that you like. The trick is in the method of mixing them. The matzo balls I like least are those made by following the recipe on the back of the matzo meal box that says to just mix all of the ingredients together. This makes for a matzo ball that is tough and coarse.

Let's start with the soup.
In the old days they used old hens for the soup. They had access to chicken necks and backs and feet! These parts made great soup. I don't know about you, but in my suburban market, I can't get backs or necks or especially not feet! The best that I can do is buy a whole chicken or some packages of cut-up chicken and that's what I have to make soup. Here's the honest truth - I supplement with canned stock. Maybe - that's a big maybe, if I used more chickens and simmered and simmered and reduced and reduced, I'd come out with great stock. But, some very good stock is sitting on the shelves and I use it to help out my 2-hour, 1 chicken stockpot. (When I have lots of time, I use chicken wings, which I roast first at 450 degrees for about 40 minutes, and then I deglaze the pan, throw it into a stockpot with water instead of the stock, plus all of  the  ingredients below, and continue with the recipe).
Serves 6-10 (18-22 matzo balls)

For the Soup
4 pounds chicken parts, or 1 roaster
1/2 head of celery, washed and cut into 1" chunks
6 carrots, peeled and cut into 1" chunks
2-3 sprigs of fresh dillweed, optional
salt and pepper to taste
2 quarts canned chicken stock ( I use Wolfgang Puck, Organic when kosher isn't an issue)
3 quarts water (or enough to cover the chicken)

Place the chicken, celery, carrots and dill into a large stockpot. Add the stock and water.

Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 1 hour.
Cook the soup for another hour. If the soup is not tasty at this point, simmer it uncovered, to concentrate the flavors. Taste the soup and adjust the salt and pepper to taste (If you are using canned stock, do not add salt until after reducing it, or it will be too salty). When the soup has the flavor you like, it can be used immediately to make the matzo balls, or can be refrigerated overnight (skim off fat if using immediately).

The next day remove any fat that has solidified on the top of the soup.

For the Matzo Balls
2-1/4 cups matzo meal
8 large eggs
1/2 cup chicken stock (should be at room temperature)
1-3/4 teaspoons salt, scant
1/2 cup oil
pepper, to taste

The manner in which you make the matzo balls will determine whether they are dense or light.

For Dense and Coarse Balls
Lightly whisk together the eggs, salt, oil and chicken stock. Stir in the matzo meal all at once. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate 30-60 minutes.

For Firm Balls (our favorite)
Lightly whisk together the eggs, salt, oil, and chicken stock. Stir in the matzo meal all at once. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 2-8 hours. The mixture will have thickened so much that a spoon will stand up by itself.

soup 005 soup 004

The longer you refrigerate the uncooked mixture, the softer the cooked balls will be (our favorite is a 2-hour matzo ball).

For Light Balls
Lightly whisk together the eggs, salt, and oil. Whisk in the matzo meal a little at a time. Stir in the chicken stock. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 4-8 hours.

For Light as a Feather Balls
Substitute seltzer for the chicken stock, and add ¼ teaspoon more salt to the batter. Follow the directions for Light Balls, above. (I'm told that 1/4 teaspoon baking soda can also be added, but I would NEVER use baking soda for Passover - my tradition.)

To cook the matzo balls:
We like to cook the matzo balls in the soup. We think they are tastiest this way - they do soak up the soup and that's the point! You should have plenty of soup to accomodate the matzo balls soaking some up.
Bring the stock to a simmer.

Using damp hands, shape the matzo mixture into balls about 1-1/4" in diameter.
Use a light touch for lighter balls, and pack them little more firmly if you like dense ones.

soup 006

Make all the balls and then drop them into the soup. For the lightest balls, drop the dough by rounded tablespoonful instead of making balls.

Cook, covered for 45 minutes. If serving immediately, add back in the reserved vegetables and chicken (if using). Let heat through, and then serve. Or, refrigerate the matzo balls in the broth overnight. If you don't like the way clear broth looks or feels in the mouth, finely chop some of the vegetables in the processor, and add them back to the broth.

Serves 6-10 (18-22 matzo balls)

Sunday, March 29, 2009


My project this past week has been macaroons – coconut macaroons, cocoa macaroons, Passover macaroons… well you get the picture. The problem with this is that I’m mildly allergic to coconut!! I’ve been tasting them all week – little bites which I chew to get a bit of the taste and texture and then spit it out (sorry, not very appetizing). I’ve also had to rely on many taste-testers. Last night, it was the Hadassah group. Next Thursday will by my mah jong group and then my Passover guests. Judging by the Hadassah testers, all of the recipes were liked – some more than others. The favorite macaroon was the one dipped in chocolate (it had the most chocolate on it), the second choice was the one cross-hatched with chocolate (second most chocolate) and the third was the one with the least chocolate. You get my drift – maybe it was the presence of more chocolate that made them like those the best. I see that I will have to repeat the test, and dip all of them in chocolate. It makes it harder for me to keep the results straight, but I shall rise to the test! And you can help. I’m going to post recipes over several days. If you want to make them and send comments on your results, I will compile a list to see which recipe wins. I’ll be starting with the Passover recipes, because Passover is fast approaching. The next batch of recipes will be made using flour and I’d also like to do one with fat-free sweetened condensed milk. Lastly, I’ll move on to chocolate macaroons. Look for the first batch of recipes tomorrow...

Friday, March 27, 2009

Lower-fat Tres Leches Cake for VGABS - the recipe

tres leches2 001

I'm thrilled to be a participant in the first Virtual Great American Bake Sale (VGABS) featuring ebook compilations of recipes from submitters across the blogosphere and beyond. Thank you to Kate Miller of http://www.stolenmomentscooking.com/ for organizing this incredible fundraiser.

100% of the proceeds from the sale of these ebooks will go toward Share Our Strength's Great American Bake Sale program. Funds raised through Great American Bake Sale are donated to after-school and summer feeding programs--food programs that many kids depend on when school is not in session. Great American Bake Sale is a program of Share Our Strength, a national organization working to make sure no kid in America grows up hungry.The ebooks are a compilation of recipes from submitters across the blogosphere and beyond. The ebooks are available for purchase based on any donation amount of the buyer's choosing. For all of the details on the sale of these ebooks, please see my previous post at: http:/amazingdessertrecipes.blogspot.com/2009/04/lower-fat-tres-leches-cake-for-vgabs.html.

Tres Leches Cake is a homey dessert, usually served directly from a decorative baking dish. I wanted a more elegant presentation, to serve at a golf event and then at the engagement party of our dear friends' children, Melissa and Travis Klingberg so, I unmolded the cake and then iced it all around. It was elegant, super moist and very, very rich. For this reason I thought it would be worth a try to develop a lower fat version - one that would be equally satisfying but less caloric. The first low-fat version, pictured above, was made during a private class for Katie Hicks and her daughters, who won me at an auction to benefit Susan G. Komen For the Cure™. I liked the lower fat version so much that it has become my standard Tres Leches Cake, and almost all who try it actually prefer it. My recipe has never been in print before, and I'm proud to offer it for yet another very important non-profit organization, Share Our Strength. What could be more important than supporting those who strive to eradicate childhood hunger.

Milk Spongecake
2 cups (200grams) sifted cake flour
1-3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

6 large eggs, separated (room temp)
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
1-1/3 cups sugar+2 tablespoons, divided
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup skim milk, room temperature

Milk Syrup
14-ounce can (1-1/4 cups) fat-free sweetened condensed milk
2-1/2 cups fat-free half and half ( do NOT use fat-free evaporated milk!)
1/4 cup heavy cream

Low-fat Whipped Cream ( or regular whipped cream or whipped topping can be used)
2 large pasteurized egg whites, room temperature (directions for using regular eggs follow)
1/4 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 packet Dr. Oetker™ Whipit stabilizer (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. with a shelf in the middle of the oven. Grease the bottom of a 9x12-inch baking pan (do not use nonstick). Place parchment paper on the bottom of the pan, only if you plan to unmold the cake.

In a small bowl, sift or stir together the cake flour, baking powder and salt.

In a large mixer bowl, beat together the egg yolks, 1-1/3 cups sugar and the vanilla, on medium speed, until a ribbon forms, about 2-4 minutes.

Slowly beat in the skim milk. Add the flour a little at a time, beating on low speed until well blended.

In a clean, greaseless bowl with clean, greaseless beaters (use the balloon whisk beater, if you have one), beat the egg whites until very foamy. Add the cream of tartar and the remaining sugar (1 tablespoon), and beat until stiff, but not dry, peaks form. The eggs should still slip a little in the bowl if you tilt it. Stir 2 cups of whites into the batter, and then fold in the remainder. Pour the batter into the pan.

Bake 35-45 minutes, until a toothpick tests clean, lowering the heat to 325 if the top starts to overbrown. Run a knife around the edges of the cake and then let it cool completely, in the pan. The top will have formed a wrinkly and fairly loose brown skin.

The skin should be loose enough to lift off. If not, use a knife to scrape it off of the rest of the cake. This will expose the soft and holey interior that will readily accept the milk syrup.

For the milk syrup, combine the sweetened condensed milk, fat-free cream and heavy cream in a measuring cup or pitcher. The amount of syrup to use is a matter of personal taste. If you use all of the syrup, the cake will have maximum saturation and some of the syrup will remain in the pan. The cake will be heavy with moisture (it's yummy this way, but not everyone's favorite). If you use 3 to 3-1/2 cups of the syrup, the cake will be lighter, but will also be drier. You'll have to try it and see which you prefer. If any syrup is not used, it can be reserved for sauce. Cover the cake with foil and refrigerate it for at least 3 hours.

For the topping, you can use whipped cream with some powdered sugar and vanilla whipped in (obviously this is a higher fat choice) or to make the lower fat whippped cream, place the pasteurized egg whites in a clean, greaseless mixer bowl and beat the egg whites until foamy throughout. Add the sugar and cream of tartar and beat until they are very stiff.

If using regular egg whites, fill the bottom of a double boiler with 2 inches of water and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium high. Place the egg whites in a greasefree metal bowl (preferably with a handle). The top of the double boiler can be used, but it is not ideal because egg can get stuck on the interior ledge and may overcook. Using a wire whisk, gradually whisk the sugar, 2 teaspoons water and cream of tartar into the egg whites. Holding excess cord taut, place the bowl over the boiling water and beat with a portable electric mixer on medium speed for 3 MINUTES. Increase the speed to high, and continue to beat for 4 MINUTES. The timing is important, because salmonella bacteria will be killed if cooked at 140 degrees F. (it takes about 3 minutes to get the eggs up to 140oF). Keep the beaters moving constantly around the bowl so that the egg does not overcook.

Remove the bowl from the heat and beat the egg whites until they are very stiff and cool, about 10 minutes. You can speed things up by wrapping ice cubes in a towel and placing them under the bowl so that the bowl is nestled in the cold towel

To continue with the recipe, in another medium bowl, beat the heavy cream, powdered sugar, vanilla and stabilizer together until the mixture just forms firm peaks (don't overbeat). Fold in the beaten egg whites (meringue).

Spread or pipe the mixture over the top of the cake. Refrigerate until ready to serve and then cut the cake into squares.

This cake is so moist that it will keep for several days in the refrigerator. Do not freeze.

When separating eggs, make sure that NO yolk gets into the whites, or they won't whip properly. Clean bowls and beaters thoroughly, and then wipe them down with vinegar to further get rid of any grease. Separate each egg into a container and then if all has gone well, transfer the yolk and whites to their respective bowls.
Dr. Oetker Whipit is optional. It allows you to make the cake ahead of time without the cream "weeping". Find it in the baking section of the grocery store.


For a more formal presentation, like the cake in the opening photo, you can unmold the soaked cake and then pipe the whipped cream all over it. To unmold, place a piece of waxed paper over the cake and then a cookie sheet or board. Invert the two together so that the cake is now upside down and out of the pan.

Rclip_image007e-invert the cake, either onto a cake board (if you want to decorate the cake and then move it to the serving platter) or directly onto the serving platter. If inverting onto a serving platter directly, you will need to protect the platter from getting messy as you frost the cake.

To do this, place strips of waxed paper on the outer inch of the cake perimeter. Now place the platter on top of the cake.


Invert the whole thing and you'll be ready to decorate.


After the cake is decorated, slide the waxed paper out from under the cake.


To donate, see my post for details: http://amazingdessertrecipes.blogspot.com/2009/04/lower-fat-tres-leches-cake-for-vgabs.html

or http//stolenmomentscooking.com/welcome-to-the-virtual-great-american-bake-sale/

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Caramel Pecan Pie

I thought you might like to actually have a pie recipe to go along with the How-To instructions for making pies and tarts!! This is one of my favorites. You'll notice that although this is a pie, I use the pastry crust that is normally used for tarts. It's a very sturdy crust (hence its use in tarts), but also tastes great when refrigerated. Most people like pecan pie heated, but I prefer it on the colder side - when its caramel taste is heightened and the pie has more texture. I also like to keep this refrigerated because the filling contains eggs.

People are usually crazy about my pecan pie because it so caramelly and does not have the gelatinous bottom so common in other pecan pie. I've achieved this by eliminating the butter in the filling, adding more nuts and baking it at a different temperature than normal.

Serves 8 – 10

Sweet Pastry Crust
1-1/2 cups(195 grams) all-purpose flour, fluffed, scooped and leveled into measuring cups
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (4 ounces) unsalted butter, cold and cut into 1/4-inch slices
1 large egg yolk
1 - 3 teaspoons cream or water

3 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1 cup dark corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups chopped pecans
Garnish (optional)
16 pecan halves
Dark corn syrup, for brushing the nuts

Old Fashioned Whipped Cream
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For photos of processing the dough, as well as rolling, transferring and crimping the dough, please see my post, Pies and Tarts - Parts 1, 2 and 3.

For the crust:
Place the flour, sugar and salt in a food processor bowl. Pulse-process until the ingredients are well mixed.

Add the cold butter. Pulse-process, about 7 times, until the butter is cut into lentil-sized pieces. Turn the processor on and add the egg yolk and 1 teaspoon water, through the feed tube. Process for 10 seconds. If not yet clumping, add another teaspoon of water. Process 10 seconds more. If necessary, add the remaining water, and process again. The dough should be dry, but should be able to be pinched together. Dump the dough out onto a board and press into a flattened disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate 15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Grease and flour a 9-inch glass pie plate. (Flouring the plate is controversial, as there is a risk that the dough could shrink off of the pie plate rim. However, it’s so much easier to get the slices out of the pan when the plate is floured, that I do it anyway. )
Roll the dough into a 12-inch round, about 1/16-inch thick ( I like to use dough rings to get the exact thickness - you can see a photo of this and a link at my post ,Pies and Tarts - Part 2. This dough is too tender to be folded for transfer to the pie plate, so the easiest way to transfer it to the pie plate is to upturn the plastic onto the pie plate. The dough is very supple, so that cracks and breaks can be fixed by simply pinching it back together.

Cut the dough so that it extends 1/4 inch beyond the pie plate rim and then roll it up so that it rests on the rim (see my post, Pies and Tarts - part 3). Crimp the pie edge. Press a piece of nonstick aluminum foil into the crust, nonstick side touching the dough and fill the foil with pie weights.

Bake for 10 minutes. Remove the foil filled with the weights. If the dough has puffed anywhere, poke it with a sharp knife to allow steam to escape and then pat the dough back so it is tight against the pie plate. Bake for 5 - 10 minutes more until the dough is partially baked and just barely starting to brown. Cool on a wire rack.

For the Filling
Increase the oven temperature to 425 degrees F.

In a large bowl, lightly whisk the eggs. Whisk in the sugar. Stir in the corn syrup, vanilla and nuts. Pour into the partially baked pie shell.

Bake for 5 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 325 degrees F. Shield the crust edges with an aluminum shield. I like to make my own shields, as the one you can buy never seems to be the right size for the crust-edge that I have crafted. I do this by using a double layer of heavy-duty aluminum foil, which I cut into a round, larger than the pie plate and then I fold the edges up, which strengthens the shield and binds the two pieces of foil together. Then, of course, the center has to be cut out so that only the crust is being shielded.

Bake for 30 minutes more. Cover the top with foil if it’s browning too much. Bake for another 25 - 35 minutes, until set. (Total baking time is about 60 - 65 minutes). The filling should not shake when you move it. Transfer the pie to a wire rack.

Store the pie in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Do not freeze.
To garnish, brush the whole pecans with a little corn syrup and stick them to the pie, placed around the perimeter, like the markings on a clock-face. Let the pie cool completely. Wrap it with foil or plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. Serve the pie either cold or at room temperature. It will be softer at room temperature, and stickier and gooier if cold.

For the Old Fashioned Whipped Cream:
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons powdered sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Place all ingredients in a small mixer bowl and beat on high speed until the cream stands in stiff peaks.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Pies and Tarts 1 - Dough Recipes

Here are my two basic crusts that I use for almost all pies and tarts. The first crust is my favorite - a cookie-like crust that refrigerates beautifully. The second is a traditional pie crust that I mostly use for double-crusted fruit pies. It's flaky and buttery - a great combination. Don't forget to continue on with Parts 2 and 3 for instructions on rolling, transferring and shaping the dough.

This is my favorite crust and the one I use for tarts and for pies that get refrigerated. It's more like a cookie, and gets even better when refrigerated. It's more of a tender crust, which means that it might rip when you transfer it to the pie or tart pan. But it's also very forgiving, and you can simply pinch it back together.

1-1/2 cups(195 grams) all-purpose flour, fluffed, scooped and leveled into measuring cups
2 - 4 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (4 ounces) unsalted butter, cold and cut into 1/4-inch slices
1 large egg yolk
1 - 3 teaspoons cream or water

Tart Crust:
Grease a 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom.

Place the flour, sugar and salt in a food processor bowl. Pulse-process until the ingredients are well mixed.

Add the cold butter. Pulse-process, about 7 times, until the butter is cut into lentil-sized pieces.

Turn the processor on and add the egg yolk and 1 teaspoon cream, through the feed tube. Process for 10 seconds. If not yet clumping, add another teaspoon of cream. Process 10 seconds more. If necessary, add the remaining cream, and process again. The dough should be dry, but should be able to be pinched together. Dump the dough out onto a board and press into a flattened disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 15 minutes.

Roll the dough into a 13-inch round, about 1/16-inch thick. To transfer the dough to the tart pan and finish the edge, see Pies and Tarts - Part 2. Press the dough snugly into the bottom of the pan where it meets the edges and into the flutes of the tart pan. Press up on the edges to thin them out and to raise the edges about 1/16-inc. Refrigerate or freeze the crust for at least 15 minutes or up to 3 weeks (for long storage, place the bag in a jumbo zip-top bag).
To use this dough in an 8-inch pie plate, roll it to 11 inches, and use the directions in Pies and Tarts - Parts 2 and 3, for finishing.

I usually use flaky pie crust for a double-crusted pie which isn't going to be refrigerated. Although it can be refrigerated, it looses some of its flakiness and is not at its best. A flaky pie crust is the kind you most often find in restaurants and bakeries, although most of those are made with shortening or lard only. Crusts made with shortening and lard are the flakiest, but I don't think they have the best flavor – and because they are saturated they tend to leave a film on the roof of the mouth, especially if you drink something cold while eating the pastry – not my favorite sensation. This crust will be flaky/tender, and will have a great taste and mouthfeel.

2-1/2 cups (325 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour, fluffed, scooped and leveled into measuring cups (or you can substitute 1/2 cup cake flour for 1/2 cup all purpose)
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
10 tablespoons (5 ounces) shortening, frozen and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
5 tablespoons (2.5 ounces) unsalted butter, cold and cut into 1/4-inch slices
1/4 cup ice water, divided

Place the flour, salt and sugar in a food processor bowl. Pulse-process to mix everything together. Place the shortening and butter on top of the dry ingredients. Pulse-process until the fats are cut into pea-size bits.

Transfer the mixture to a bowl. Sprinkle on 3 tablespoons ice water. Mix with a fork and then, using your fingertips, press the mixture into a solid mass. If necessary, add more water to bring the dough together. Divide the dough in half. Wrap each piece in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Grease and flour an 8-inch glass pie plate (you'll need more dough if using a large pan). Flouring the plate is controversial, as there is a risk that the dough could shrink off of the pie plate rim. However, it’s so much easier to get the slices out of the pan when the plate is floured, that I do it anyway.

Using the technique from Pies and Tarts – Part 2, roll 1 piece of dough into an 11 or 12-inch circle about 1/8-inch thick. Transfer the dough to the pie plate. Trim the dough and make the edging of your choice using instructions in Pies and Tarts Part 3.

After you fill your pie, you'll roll out the remaining dough, making it larger than the bottom crust, if the pie is mounded with fruit. Trim the top crust so it is the same size as the bottom crust. Squeeze the two edges together and then roll the edge up to make a nice border on the pan rim. Flute the edge using one of the techniques from Pies and Tarts Part 3. Make 4 or 5 slits in the pie with a sharp knife.

Bake as your recipe requires.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Passover Peach Melba Torte

This has been adapted from my CD-rom, Amazing Passover Desserts (you probably know that since it's on the cover of the CD!). If you have access to fresh Freestone peaches (pits come out cleanly) this is ideal. If not, fresh or poached pears or even canned peaches or pears can be used with good result.

Pareve or Dairy
SERVES 6 - 8

Almond Sponge Cake
1-1/4 cups sliced almonds
4 teaspoons matzo cake meal (DO NOT USE REGULAR MATZO MEAL)
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
4 large eggs, room temperature, separated
2/3 cup sugar

Raspberry Filling1 bag (12 ounces) frozen raspberries
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup sugar
2-1/2 teaspoons potato starch
1 cup sliced almonds
3 - 4 peaches (freestones), fresh and ripe
2 lemons

Garnishes (optional)1 pint raspberries, fresh
Passover Richwhip®, thawed and whipped or Whipped Cream (see Hazelnut Pear Torte for recipe)

For the cake:
PREHEAT OVEN TO 350 degrees F., with a shelf in the middle of the oven. Grease a 9-inch round cake pan and line the bottom with kosher parchment paper.

1. Toast the almonds in the oven for 5 - 10 minutes or until aromatic. Put the nuts in the freezer for 5 minutes to cool them.

2. Place the nuts, matzo cake meal and cinnamon in a processor bowl and process until finely ground. Transfer the contents to a bowl.

3. Place the egg yolks in a large mixer bowl and beat with an electric mixer at medium speed just to blend the eggs together. Gradually add 1/2 cup of the sugar and continue beating until the eggs are thick, pale yellow and the mixture will hold a ribbon

4. Fold in the nuts in three additions.

5. In a large, clean, and grease-free bowl, beat the egg whites until foamy throughout. Gradually add 2 tablespoons of sugar and continue beating until the whites are stiff but not dry. Stir 1/3 of the whites into the yolks to lighten the batter. Fold in the remaining whites until no white streaks show.

6. Scrape the batter into the pan. BAKE 25 - 35 MINUTES or until a tester inserted in the middle of the cake comes out dry.

7. Set the cake on a wire rack to cool. When cool, run a knife around the edge and then invert onto a cake board and reinvert onto another cake board so that the cake is right side up.

8. For this recipe you need a 1/16-inch hollow in the top of the cake to hold the filling. If necessary, press down on the edges of the cake to lessen the hollow or if the cake is flat, you can build up the edges with almond slices as follows: Dab a small amount of the filling on the bottom of each almond. Place a row of almonds along the perimeter of the cake. Place the second row staggered, just like a brick or stone wall would be built and continue building the wall until the hollow is even and deep enough to accommodate the filling. Reserve the remaining almonds for garnish.

For the topping:1. Defrost the frozen berries in a bowl, overnight, or in a microwave for 10 minutes on defrost.

2. Put the berries through the fine blade of a food mill and then through a fine mesh strainer to remove all of the seeds.

3. Place the potato starch in a small bowl or jar. Add a tablespoon of raspberry puree and stir to make a smooth paste. Add a couple more tablespoons of puree and stir until the mixture is liquidy.

4. Place the remaining puree, lemon juice and sugar in a small saucepan. Heat on medium, stirring often, until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat to medium high and cook just until the puree comes to a boil. Whisk in the potato starch mixture. Continue to boil until the puree "clears" (the puree will turn cloudy and whitish when the starch is added). If there are any lumps, strain through a medium mesh strainer into a container.

5. Immediately, pour the warm filling slowly into the hollow to create a thin (1/16-inch) layer of filling (you will need slightly more than half of the filling). Reserve excess filling. Cool completely, and then refrigerate overnight.

6. Up to 3 hours before serving, loosen the peach skins by plunging peaches into boiling water for 30 seconds. Cool under cold water and peel. Slice peaches into wedges a scant 1/8-inch thick. To prevent darkening, toss the peach wedges in fresh lemon juice.

7. Arrange the peaches over the raspberry filling in overlapping circles. Start from the outside edge with the tips of the peaches perpendicular to cake edge. Continue inward with tips overlapping, as per the above photo.

8. Brush the peaches with some of the reserved raspberry filling, thinning it with Passover wine, if necessary. Brush the sides of the torte with the raspberry filling, crush the reserved almonds lightly and press them to the sides. Serve the torte as is, or with whipped Passover Richwhip®. For a dairy dessert, it’s great with ice cream.

If fresh freestone peaches are not available, canned peaches or Vanilla Poached Pears. If you don't want to make the raspberry filling, you can use raspberry jam.

CAN PREPARE AHEADAlmond Cake , 1 day ahead or freeze for 3 months
Finished Torte, 3hours ahead


Sunday, March 8, 2009

Pies and Tarts Part 3 - Crust Shaping

To continue on with the series on Pies and Tarts, the next step after rolling out the dough will be to transfer the dough to the pie plate or tart pan.

There are several different ways to transfer dough to a pan. For sturdy doughs use any of the following methods:

Flip the dough over the rolling pin. Pick the whole dough piece off of the plastic and lay it into the pan.

Flour the dough, fold it in quarters, and then transfer it to the pan and unfold it (can be used with pie or tart pans).

For tender doughs (usually doughs that have a lot of sugar in them):
Flip and flour both sides of the dough to make sure that it's not sticking to the plastic. Slide your hand under the bottom plastic (between the plastic and counter – not under the dough itself) and in one quick motion, upturn the dough onto the plate, and then loosen the dough and remove the plastic. Tender dough may break when you do this but should be very easy to squeeze back together.

Pie Crust Edges:
Before making the crust edge, the dough has to be trimmed. Scissors work great for this without tearing the dough. For most crust edges, I trim the dough to about 1/2-3/4-inch past the pan edge.

After this, most bakers turn the edge under, but I like to roll the dough up onto the rim. It makes for a nice sturdy edge which releases from the pan easily for serving.

The easiest edge is made by simply pressing down on the raised rim with the tines of a fork.

The most common edge is one you make with your thumb and index finger of one hand and the thumb of the other hand.

Your thumb should be in the space,
making the indentation, while the thumb
and forefinger are holding the dough
so that it can be shaped as you see it.

Another easy border is made by pressing a chopstick/handle, or other object into the dough rim at an angle, creating a rope-like border.

The checkerboard border is made by first making cuts in the dough rim every 1/2-inch.
Then push every other cut forward.

The last edge is the leaf edge. You'll need about 32 leaves to go around the whole 9-inch rim (depending on the size of the leaf and how you overlap them).

If your cutter doesn't have veins, you can use a sharp knife to put veins in.

Brush a portion of rim with egg white whisked with 1/2 teaspoon of water, and then place the leaf on the rim. Overlap the leaves slightly, and skew them, alternating left and right.

Transfer the dough using one of the above techniques. Make sure that the dough is tightly pressed against the tart rim. Run a rolling pin over the top of the tart to cut off the excess dough. Press up on the dough on the sides of the tart so that the dough is just slightly higher than the rim.

Pies and Tarts Part 2 - How to Roll Dough

Lots of people are afraid to roll dough, and for good reason – without the proper equipment, it's hard to do! Typically one would roll dough out from the center, in all directions, until the dough would be the thickness desired. Oftentimes the dough would stick to the pastry board or counter or to the rolling pin. The dough had to be the perfect texture and wetness for the dough to roll easily and well. And getting it even throughout was an anxiety attack waiting to happen. The process was especially difficult for those who only made pastry once in awhile, but wasn't easy even for a seasoned pastry maker. For the last twenty years I've experimented with various techniques to make this whole process a pleasure, rather than a chore – methods so easy that even children can have great success with them. It's all a matter of having the right tools.

I almost always roll my dough inside of a Hefty® 2.5 quart jumbo food storage bag. This sturdy plastic allows you to flip over the dough, peel off the plastic and flour the dough while you are working it. I do that multiple times as I am rolling the dough.

To prepare the plastic, cut off the zipper and then cut open two other sides so that you now have a hinged piece of sturdy plastic. Flour the plastic and place the dough inside.

To roll the dough to an even thickness, I like to use one of these tools:

Dobord -Available at: http://www.cooking.com/

The Dobord has grooves cut into the two sides that allow you to drop the bottom down to 4 different levels for 4 different thicknesses of dough. It's terrific for rolling out cookie dough and larger, rectangular or square shapes.

Perfect-A-Pie (rings) - Available from http://www.fantes.com/

This tool comes as a set of three rings for rolling out perfect rounds of dough (I also use it for cookies, etc.). The rings are very thin (maybe 1/16th inch), so I have two sets that I use one-on-top of the other when a thicker pastry is needed.

For either of these tools, you will need a rolling pin long enough to sit on the edges of the tool. You'll want a solid wood pin without ball bearings.

Roll the dough until the pin sits perfectly flat on both edges of the ring or mold ( if the dough fills the mold, cut out a little so that you can be sure that the dough is rolled as far as it will go and that the pin is completely flat across the whole length of the dough).

You're now ready to cut out cookies or shapes, or to transfer the dough to a pie or tart plate.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Passover Hazelnut Pear Tort

This dessert grew out of the recipe for Pear Flower Almond Tortes. It was easier to make for a crowd and is so beautiful, that I just had to include it. Pecans are also great in this torte.

Pareve or Dairy
SERVES 6 – 8



Wine Poached Pears
Passover grape or blackberry wine
 pears, barely ripe (Bosc or Bartlett)

Hazelnut Sponge Cake
skinned hazelnuts, divided
matzo cake meal
large eggs, room temperature, separated

Topping and Garnish
1 jar seedless raspberry jam
Passover Richwhip®, thawed and whipped or Whipped Cream, see below

For wine poached pears:
1. Combine the sugar, wine and 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (about 4 small lemons) in a 6-quart stainless steel or other non-corrosive pot. Heat over medium heat until the sugar dissolves.

2. Meanwhile, squeeze the last lemon into a large bowl of water and drop the lemon rind into the water. Peel the pears one at a time and place them into the bowl. When all of the pears are peeled, use a slotted spoon to slide the pears into the hot liquid. Place over high heat until the liquid starts to boil.

3. Reduce the heat to low so that the wine is just barely simmering. Cover and cook the pears 5 - 45 minutes, until a sharp knife tip can be easily inserted into the pears. The amount of time will vary with the type of pear and the ripeness.

4. When the pears are done, transfer them to a storage container and immediately pour the syrup over the fruit. If any of the pears are floating, ball up some aluminum foil and press into the syrup so that the pears are completely submerged in the liquid. Cool, cover and refrigerate for up to 5 days (best in 2).

For the sponge cake:
1. PREHEAT OVEN TO 350 degrees F. with a shelf in the middle of the oven. Grease a 9-inch round springform pan.

2. Toast the hazelnuts in the oven for 5 - 10 minutes or until aromatic. Put the nuts in the freezer for 5 minutes to cool them. Reserve 1/2 cup nuts for garnish.

3. Place 2-1/2 cup nuts, matzo cake meal and cinnamon in a processor bowl and process until finely ground.

4. Place the egg yolks in a large mixer bowl and beat with an electric mixer at medium speed just to blend the eggs together. Gradually add 1 cup of the sugar and continue beating until the eggs are thick, pale yellow and the mixture will hold a ribbon (explanation page 12). Fold in the nut-mixture in three additions.

5. In a large, clean, and greasefree bowl, beat the egg whites until foamy throughout. Gradually add 1/4 cup sugar and continue beating until the whites are stiff but not dry .

6. Stir 1/3 of the whites into the yolks to lighten the batter. Fold in the remaining whites until no white streaks show. BAKE 30 - 40 MINUTES or until a tester inserted in the middle of the cake comes out dry. Set the cake on a wire rack to cool.

To assemble:
Spread a thin layer of raspberry jam onto the top of the cake, adding a little water or wine to the jam, if it is not thin enough to spread. Spread a thin layer of the Richwhip® over the entire torte. Chop the reserved hazelnuts and press them to the sides of the torte. Halve the pears and remove the cores. Cut the pears tip-to-stem into thin slices (1/8-inch or less, to taste) and arrange them decoratively on the torte. For instructions on making the design on the above photo, see Decorating with Fruit, page 206. Thin some jam (if you haven’t already) with water or wine – about 1 tablespoon per half cup of jam. Brush this over the pears to keep them moist and shiny.

The poached pears can be made 3-5 days in advance.
The sponge cake can be made 1 day ahead or frozen for 3 months ahead.
The finished torte can be made 6 hours in advance.

Skinned hazelnuts, kosher for Passover, can be bought through http://www.aviglatt.com/. To skin them yourself, place the hazelnuts on a pan in a 350o oven and roast for 10 minutes. Pour the nuts onto the upper half of a kitchen towel. Fold the bottom half of the towel up over the nuts and rub back and forth. The skins should come off. If there are a lot of nuts with skins that won't release, place the nuts back in the oven and roast for another 5 minutes. It is okay if the nuts brown lightly. Repeat. Nuts that refuse to shed their skins can be boiled for 5 minutes and then the skins can be peeled off.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Chocolate Blackout Cake Part II - Creamy and Thick Ganache Frosting

For my blackout cake, I wanted a very thick, creamy and smooth chocolate frosting. I was thinking about ganache, but thicker and more pipeable, but one that would remain soft at room temperature. After seeing a recipe in The Gift of Southern Cooking by Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock, I thought that adding more butter to my ganache might be the way to achieve the result I wanted. I tried various ratios of cream, butter and chocolate but couldn't seem to get it thick enough, yet soft enough, at room temperature. When I added more cream, the frosting was soft enough, but it lacked body. Then it occurred to me that what I needed was to add some oil to the frosting. This worked beautifully. As you can see, this is a VERY rich frosting. You'll have more than enough to frost a 2-layer 9-inch cake, but it takes so long to set up, I wanted you to have extra in case you need it for decorating, or whatever.

1-3/4 cups heavy cream
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-size pieces at room temperature
1/4 cup oil
1/4 cup sugar (or to taste)
1-1/2 pounds semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 teaspoon vanilla

Place the cream, butter and sugar in a medium pot (the cream bubbles up quite a lot, so take this into consideration). Set over medium-high heat, and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is melted. Boil for 30 seconds.

Place the chopped chocolate in a medium-size bowl. Pour the cream mixture over the chocolate. Let it sit for a five minutes, and then stir. Let it stand for another five minutes and then stir in a figure-eight pattern until the chocolate and cream are completely blended and the chocolate is melted. Strain the mixture through a medium-mesh strainer into a bowl. Set the frosting aside to cool (cool room temperature is best) until spreadable – 2-4 hours, depending on the depth of the bowl and the temperature of the kitchen. Stir slowly and occasionally as the mixture is cooling. Do not refrigerate the frosting to speed up the process, or you may make the frosting grainy. Once you have frosted your cake, the frosted cake can be refrigerated in a covered container. Remove it from the refrigerator an hour before serving the cake.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Chocolate Blackout Cake Part I

I've been working on blackout cake for 2 weeks now. Not the Brooklyn type with chocolate custard (not my favorite), but a devil's food-type cake with a very rich and creamy chocolate frosting. My first cake came out a little bit dry and way too crumbly. I thought that if I added two tablespoons of oil, it would be just about right and it did come out great – a little fudgy, moist and not crumbly. The only drawback with the recipe is that the batter is so thick that it's hard to spread evenly, and it does form a sort of crunchy crust. I thought it might be nice to make it a bit easier to spread in the pan. I did this by adding and extra 2 tablespoons of milk. It's amazing how much this changed the cake. It was easier to spread and it rose higher, making it a bit less fudgy. Both versions are great and you can choose whichever suits your taste. The frosting is still a work in progress…

5 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 tablespoons oil

1-3/4 cups + 2 TB (244 grams) all-purpose flour, measured by fluffing, scooping and levelling*
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

10 tablespoons (5 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons and at room temperature
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 large eggs, room temperature

3/4 cup sour cream, room temperature
1/2 cup milk (skim or regular), room temperature

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. with an oven rack in the middle of the oven. Grease two 9-inch round cake pans. Line the bottoms with parchment paper and then spray-grease and flour the pans.

Place the chopped chocolate and the oil in a microwave-safe container. Micro-cook on medium (#5) for 1 minute. Stir and then reheat in 15-second increments on medium power until the chocolate is melted.

In a small bowl, stir-sift* or sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt. Set it aside.

In a mixer bowl, combine the butter and both sugars. Beat on medium speed for 3-5 minutes until the mixture is uniformly smooth and creamy, and well aerated. Beat in vanilla. Add the eggs, beating for 1 minute after the addition of each egg, and scraping down the bowl a few times. On low, beat in the sour cream and chocolate.

On low, in 4 additions, beat in the flour mixture alternately with the milk, starting and ending with the flour. Divide the batter between the pans.

Bake for 40-50 minutes until a tester comes out clean. Set the cakes on a wire rack. Immediately, run a knife around the edges of the cakes, using an up-and-down, rather than a sawing motion. Cool completely. Invert the cooled pans onto a board, and rap the pans sharply to get the cakes out of the pans. Remove the parchment, and re-invert the cakes so that they are right-side-up. Trim the cakes to get them level or to reduce them to the thickness you desire. You can use a cake leveler (I like Wilton's), or a long serrated knife.

(obviously the levelling photos are not from the chocolate cake!)
Save the pieces you cut off of the cakes to be used as crumbs for the sides of the cake.

For a batter that is easier to spread evenly, that rises higher and is less fudgy, add another 2-3 tablespoons of milk to the batter.