Sunday, June 27, 2010

Blackberry Shortcake

Earlier this week I made strawberry shortcake, using genoise for the base instead of a biscuit.  I've never been that crazy about biscuits, and you can't really make them ahead.  I usually use poundcake as the base, but I thought it might be nice to have something lighter.  While the strawberries were delicious, the cake was too light, and didn't have enough texture once the dessert was assembled.  So I was going to make strawberry shortcake again this weekend, until I came across the most beautiful local blackberries at my local Earthfare store.  Some of them were as large as my thumb, and sweet sweet sweet...

Instead of going back to the genoise, I decided to try biscuits again.  I think I'm always trying to lower the fat in them, and that's probably why they aren't at the top of my list for dessert.  This time around, I decided to go for it.  I tried two recipes: 1 with buttermilk and the other with half & half, and I used 6 tablespoons of unsalted butter - that's not the most butter I've ever seen in a biscuit recipe, but it is up near the top.  I like my biscuits sweet, too, so I chose the higher end for the sugar ingredient.  Both the buttermilk and the cream biscuits came out great.  They were toothly enough to stand up to the juicy fruit topping, and they had a delicious crunchy exterior. Yay for butter!

Shortbread biscuits are just about one of the easiest pastries you'll ever make.  There's very little prep, very little worktime, and very quick cleanup.  When paired with simple sugared fruit, it comes together in way less than 1 hour. I prefer  blackberries to be quite well macerated so that they aren't as tough in the middle and so that the sweetness permiates the berry.  If you like them like this too, and you want to serve the shortbreads within 1 hour of making them, you might want to start the berries first, otherwise you can start the berries while the shortbreads are cooling.  If serving them for company, you might want to make and refrigerate the dough, and then shape and bake them just before sitting down to dinner.  More details follow.

Serves 4-5
Shortbread Biscuits
2 cups (260 grams) bleached all-purpose flour, fluffed scooped and levelled into measuring cups
3- 4 tablespoons sugar (to taste)
1 tablespoon baking powder if using cream, (2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder +1/2 ts.baking soda, if using buttermilk)
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter

3/4 cup buttermilk or half & half (have 1 TB extra just in case)
1/4 teaspoon vanilla

Blackberry Topping
5 cups blackberries
2/3 cup sugar

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. with a rack in the middle of the oven.  Lightly grease a baking sheet.

Place the flour, sugar, baking powder (and baking soda if you are using it) and salt in a medium-not too deep bowl.  Sift, or stir it well to distribute the ingredients. 

You need to get the butter "cut" into the flour mixture.  You can do this with 2 knives, with a pastry blender, in a processor, or my favorite method, by rubbing the bar of butter against the coarse holes of a box grater.
(I hope you have one - the only reason I do, is that I have a friend who has given me several graters.  Thanks, Ann!)

For this method:
Unwrap the stick of butter so that the bar is exposed, except for the last 2 tablespoons of the stick. Rub the stick of butter against the grater until you are right down to the covered part.

 You now have 6 tablespoons of grated butter that you want to gently toss into the flour mixture.

Make a well in the center of this flour/butter mixture, and pour in the buttermilk or cream and the vanilla. Using a wooden spoon or a spatula push the flour from the outside of the bowl towards the center, gently combining the liquid and dry ingredients until you have a rough mass.

To finish, use your hands to gently push the dough together.  Add a tiny bit of reserved liquid if you can't get the dough to completely pick up all of the flour.  The dough will be very rough looking, but all of the flour should stick to it.  Use a tiny bit of flour to prevent sticking on your work board, and turn the dough onto it.

Press the dough down gently to create a square or rectangular shape.  The size will depend on how you want your finished biscuit.  I like to pat the dough to about 3/4-inch thick.  You could make it thinner if you plan to slice the biscuits in half and then layer fruit and cream between and on top of the biscuit. 

Cut the dough into squares or rounds, whichever you prefer.  The rounds can be 3 to 3-1/2-inches in diameter.  If you want to use the tops, I would go with the smaller size.  You should be able to get 5 -6 biscuits out of the dough, depending on how thick you make them.

Place the biscuits on the baking sheet and bake for 10-14 minutes, until they are golden brown, and a tester stuck into the middle of a biscuit comes out with no crumbs attached.

Slide the biscuits onto a cooling rack and let cool at least 1 hour before eating. 

If you want to make them ahead, make the dough, up until the cutting instruction ( Use buttermilk for the make-ahead dough).  At this point, wrap the dough square in plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to bake.  Cut the biscuits as desired, and bake for 12-17 minutes until they are nicely browned and test done.

I prefer to serve only the bottoms of the biscuits because otherwise it seems like too much cake to fruit, it's harder to eat and the top biscuit doesn't get to soak up the juice the way the bottom one does.  You could slice the biscuits in half, and make double the portions, but it's hard to get them even, and then the biscuit seems skimpy. So,  I usually slice off the top 1/4-inch  of the biscuit, and just serve the bottoms, as in the opening photo.  If you prefer to serve top and bottom , here's what they look like .

Blackberry Topping
5 cups blackberries
2/3 cup sugar

Combine 2 cups of blackberries and 1/3 cup sugar in a medium bowl, and set aside for 5 minutes.  Mash the berries with fork or potato masher.  This will release the juice and give you the sauce you need.  Stir in the remaining blackberries and the remaining sugar, to taste.  Let the berries macerate until  they are the texture and sweetness that you like ( I prefer overnight, but no less than 1 hour).

Serve over biscuits or ice cream.
For shortcakes,  plan on 1 cup of berries per person

Whipped Cream
1/2 pint  heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons powdered sugar, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon vanilla, or to taste

My daughter recently made whipped cream using farm-fresh cream, and she was surprised that the cream whipped up so fast, that she actually had little bits of butter forming in the cream ( not delicious in a dessert).  This is probably because the cream had a higher fat content than the stuff we normally find in the supermarket, or it's even possible that it wasn't pasteurized.  Ultra-pasteurized cream, the product we often buy, whips up slower and is airier than regular or non-pasteurized cream.  The extra butterfat in farm-fresh or "European"-style cream also makes for a denser whipped cream.  It can be quite delicious if it isn't overbeaten.  So take care when you start beating your whipped cream and don't walk away unless you know that your cream is ultra-pasteurized and will take a little longer to whip.

Place all of the ingredients in a small bowl.  Beat on high until the cream thickens, and stands in peaks.  If there is any doubt, finish the cream with a hand-held whisk.  You'll get a much better feel for whether the whipped cream is done, or if it needs a few more whisks.

Refrigerate until ready to use.  Whipped cream will "water-out"  after a few hours.  If making it ahead, you can place it in a filter-lined basket, or you can just skim the whipped cream from the top, leaving the watery residue behind. Or you can use a product called Whip-it, which will prevent the whipped cream from getting watery. Buy it in the  supermarket on the baking aisle, and follow the package directions for use.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Deli-Style Rice Pudding

I feel sure that I've already posted a recipe for rice pudding, and yet I can't find it anywhere on my website, listed on the Internet with my name, nor in my computer.  How can that be when it is my husband's favorite dessert? It's a mystery...

I had meant to make it for my husband for his birthday, but we were in Seattle, celebrating with our kids, so I knew it was a must for father's day.

In any case, eggless, deli-style rice pudding, such as this,  is a very smooth and creamy tasting rice pudding. If you prefer it richer, you can use 2% or even whole milk. We prefer it less filling so that we can eat more of it! Both sushi rice and Arborio rice are excellent for rice pudding as both types of rice stay soft when refrigerated.  they're also both very starchy, which makes the pudding thicken well. I prefer sushi rice to Arboriothough,  because it bubbles up less, and is therefore easier to cook. It's hard to know exactly how much liquid to add to rice pudding, because it depends on the kind and shape of the pot you are using, the kind and age of the rice, the stove you are using, etc.  That extra milk you see at the end of the recipe, however, is a little insurance that I've built in to the recipe  It ensures that even if you've boiled away too much of the liquid your pudding can still be made perfect!

1 cup Japanese sushi or Arborio rice
4 cups water
1-1/2 inch piece vanilla bean, split lengthwise with one end still attached
1/4 teaspoon salt

5-1/3 cups 1% milk  (use 2% or whole milk if you like it richer)
2/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup raisins
1/4-1/2 cup extra milk (any percentage of your choice), as needed

Cinnamon and nutmeg to taste

Place the rice, water, vanilla bean and salt in a 5-quart pot. Bring it to a boil over high heat. Cover, reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the 5-1/3 cups milk and sugar in another 3-quart pot, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cover, reduce the heat to low and keep warm until the rice is done cooking. You can see that I'm using quite a large pot for this.

Remove the vanilla bean, scrape the vanilla seeds into the milk mixture and then drop the vanilla pod back into the mixture. Ladle the milk mixture into the cooked rice, stirring gently to break up any lumps (now you can see why I needed such a large pot).

Place the pot over medium-high heat and bring to a simmer. Simmer uncovered, for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

The pudding will be thicken dramatically in the last 5 minutes.
After 15 minutes of cooking, you can see that it still only looks like a pot of milk.

But, in the right-hand  picture, you can see that it has thickened and looks like pudding.

Stir in the raisins (If they are not soft and plump to begin with, add them about five 5 minutes earlier).

Spoon the pudding into a 9x13-inch glass pan, which will give it maximum area to cool down.
Let the pudding cool briefly and then cover loosely with foil and refrigerate until completely cool (about 6 hours).

The pudding may look unappealing when you uncover it. Don’t worry! Stir it up and add, if necessary, 1/4 -1/2 more milk to loosen it and to provide just a little bit of creamy sauce. It should feel heavy as you stir it, but not gluey.  When you have it the consistency you like, smooth it back out, grate some fresh nutmeg over the pudding and lightly sprinkle it with cinnamon. The pudding will now look yummy!

For a more decorative service, spoon the pudding into individual goblets or bowls and sprinkle each serving with nutmeg and cinnamon.

Rice pudding keeps for 1 week in the refrigerator.

Do not freeze.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Strawberry Cream Cheese Tart

In case you've been wondering what that tart is that adorns the cover of my new CD-rom, here it is. 
This is one of the simplest tarts you can make. It’s got a press-in crust, perfect for those short on time or skittish about rolling dough, and a cream cheese filling that can be whipped up in a flash. Arranging the berries can be time consuming, but the tart is equally impressive if the berries are simply piled on. It tastes great with raspberries, too.


Press-in Sablé Crust

1-1/4 cups (163 grams) all-purpose flour, fluffed, scooped and leveled into measuring cups
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cold
1 large egg yolk, cold
1 teaspoon cold water

1 egg white, whisked

Cream Cheese Cream Filling
4 ounces neufchatel cheese (lite cream cheese), room temperature
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons powdered sugar, divided
1-1/2 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup heavy cream

Strawberry Topping
1 pound strawberries, washed and hulled
1/2 cup strained strawberry jam or jelly
1/2 teaspoon unflavored gelatin mixed with 2 teaspoons water, optional

For the crust:
Prepare the tart pan (with removable bottom) by rubbing a piece of slightly softened butter on the bottom and around the rim of the pan.

Remove the excess butter by running your finger up the flutes.

Mix the flour, sugar and salt in a food processor. Pulse, to mix the ingredients together. Cut the butter into 1/4-inch cubes and add to the processor. Pulse on and off, until the mixture looks like coarse meal. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolk and water. Add to the processor and process for 10 - 20 seconds, until the dough starts to come together. Turn the dough out onto a piece of plastic wrap and press it into a ball. To fit the dough into the pan, start with gumball-sized lumps of dough. Squeeze the dough between your fingers until it is about 1/16-inch thick. Place in the pan.

Repeat with the remaining dough, piecing everything together to make a solid crust (you should have a golf ball-size lump of dough left over). To trim the edges, run a rolling pin over the top of the pan.

Press the edges up slightly to thin them out and to make the edges a little higher than the pan. If the bottom crust is very bumpy, you can flatten it by tamping with the bottom of a glass.  Prick the bottom of the dough, about 12 times, with a fork.

Freeze the tart for 15 minutes or until firm to the touch. Press greased aluminum foil snugly on top of the dough. Fill the foil with pie weights or beans. Bake for 15 minutes, remove the foil and beans and bake 8-12 minutes more until lightly browned. Immediately, brush the egg white over the crust. The heat of the tart will set the egg and make it more moisture resistant. Cool completely on a wire rack.

For the filling:
Place the cream cheese in a mixer bowl. Beat on medium speed until creamy. Sift in 1/2 cup powdered sugar, and beat on medium-low until smooth. Beat in the vanilla. In another bowl, place the cream and the remaining 2 tablespoons powdered sugar. Beat on high until the cream forms stiff peaks. Stir about 3/4 cup whipped cream into the cheese mixture, and then fold in the balance of the whipped cream. Spoon the filling into the pie shell.
For the topping:
The strawberries will look prettiest if the tart is served within 3 hours of cutting them, but if this is not possible, they’ll still be fine up to 8 hours after assembling. For a simple presentation, the berries can be brushed with the jam or jelly and put on the cake whole, or sliced and put onto of the tart haphazardly.

This is from Amazing Dairy-free Desserts, but you can see how pretty a haphazard tart can look.

For a more showy presentation, slice the strawberries, tip to stem, into 1/8-inch slices. Brush them with melted jam, or if the tart will stand for more than a few hours, mix the gelatin and water together in a small bowl. Let it stand a few minutes to absorb the water and then microwave until liquidy and hot, about 15 seconds. Place the strawberry jam in a small pot and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Spoon in the gelatin mixture. Cook, while stirring, until the mixture is smooth and clear. Brush over the strawberries.

Arrange the strawberry slices on the top of the cake in concentric, overlapping circles. Start at the outside of the tart using the largest slices. Try and put the second row between two adjacent berries.

Complete all the rows, and for the center, you can use a whole strawberry, a sixth of a berry with very thin slices of strawberry wrapped around it, or just a few slices sticking up.

Remove the outer rim, just before serving.  Serve the tart within 3 hours for optimal looks or up to 8 hours later. It will look quite sad the second day, but will be fine for leftovers. Do not freeze.