Sunday, March 7, 2010

And the Winner is?

I'm going to go with the winner is us, the viewers.  2009 was a bang up year for movies.  I saw 3 (4?) of the best picture nominees so far and any of them could have won and I'd have been good with it, although there seemed to be general agreement that The Hurt Locker should take it, and it did.  Overall, I was pretty pleased with how things rolled out.  I got invited to the Oscar party of a friend of a friend who went all out decorating with a large Oscar at the entrance and little black clapper party favors and Oscar posters around the place.  We had a comfy couch and a snack table and watched the whole thing.  All the clothes were lovely and appropriate - there were only good, better, and best as far as I'm concerned (that I saw). I was super pleased that Sandra Bullock won best actress, although I wouldn't have begrudged 3 of the other 4 winning (an Education was excellent, Meryl does the definitive Julia, and how could Helen Mirren being Mrs. Tolstoy go wrong?) but I just really thought SB gave a truly great performance in The Blind Side.  That movie could have been all things bad, but it did not go off the rails.  Rather, it exceeded all my expectations and I couldn't be happier for her. In general, the whole night was a best of the best, not a "where did *that* come from" kinda night.  Again, 2009 was a banner year for movies.

But let's get on to the important stuff.  The snacks!
My friend, if you'll remember, left me with the Martha Stewart Cookie Cookbook.  So I figured I'd take a small sampling of cookies to the party by making one  or two more treats, then slicing up some more of the Earl Grey cookies from the freezer.  And to no ones' surprise, I got carried away.

I started out with something approximating bars - brownies!  But I picked the special "coconut swirl brownies" where one floods the bottom with chocolate brownie mix, drop in some coconut sweet spots, then cover with chocolate and swirl them together.  There's one left, here, in the corner.
1 brownie and 2 pistachio cookies
I got off to a slow start when I didn't have any sweetened condensed milk to mix with the coconut.  I did have unsweetened coconut from the Bangluck market, though, and a motherload of coconut milk.  Since sweetened condensed milk is essentially milk with sugar added which is then cooked to reduce water, I figured I could make my own.  I'm not sure if it was the adding the sugar early or what, but the coconut/sugar mixture splattered EVERYWHERE unless I stirred it constantly, which I did not want to do.  Fortunately I had a sieve that fit right over the tiny pan to contain most of the splatters.   I could have cooked it down a tiny bit more (It went from 2/3 cup to 1/2 cup but I needed 1/3 cup and a little less water.  Still and all, they came out great, if a little more moist and swirled than intended.  Did I mention there's one left?

Also in the picture are two Pistachio Tuiles (/tweel/).  You may notice that they don't look like this:
Jeniffer Paxton from Melbourne Australia's cookies - lots of good looking tuiles on a cooling rack
I had some technical difficulties with these tweels.  Having a coffee grinder that I use for spices - and in this case nuts - the batter was dead easy to make.  Unfortunately, they're pernicious little buggers to cook.  They do taste excellent though - the pistachio comes through and they're nice and light and sweet and crunchy.  I started trying to bake them on an airbake pan with a silpat or tefloned "permanent parchment".  They stuck like crazy to both.  Turns out they have to be fully cooked or they won't come off even non-stick surfaces, and my edges got really, really cooked while the centers were still uncooked.  I moved to a greased silpat on a non-airbake and it went a little better, but by then I was out of patience and made them too large, so again with the cookies that came off partially then ripped.

I finally got about one pan's worth both baked and shaped and they were well enough reviewed (and the batter is easy enough) that I'm willing to try them again.  But if you do them, make sure they're brown almost all the way through before even thinking about approaching them with a spatula.  Eggs are sticky in general, but add sugar and heat and they'll stick like barnacles until they dry out.  Seriously, butter up that silpat and hold out an extra minute or two.

You'd think that would be enough and you'd be right.  But I had a couple hours to kill today and decided to go with my third choice of Apricot Windows.
Apricot tart with edges showing

The recipe makes a 9"x11" pan of these and calls for just over 4 sticks of butter.  Even though I did hit a good sale on, of all things, unsalted butter at the grocery store (yes, at Ralphs) last week and stocked up a bit, using a pound of butter seemed excessive and I really didn't need that much tart.  I decided to make half a recipe and put it in an 8" round springform pan, which I now own thanks to the reasonably priced bakeware from IKEA.  I probably could have made a third of the batter (making the egg division easier, but everything else trickier) but this seems to have worked out well enough.
 apricot tart in IKEA springform pan

The jam filling tasted fine before it went on and probably improved with the baking.  It wasn't straight up apricot though.  A friend of mine moved and left me the contents of her pantry which included a jar each of apple and peach jelly. I've been looking askance at them for a while and decided this would be the perfect use.  So I mixed them together along with some chopped dried apricots and hint of diced candied ginger and I'll know at breakfast tomorrow if I made the right choice. 

UPDATE: This is freakishly delicious.  I used Bob's Red Mill whole grain cornmeal, which I ground down a little finer in my non-coffee grinder, and it adds great things to the texture and flavor of the crust - something that's not normally my favorite part of a dessert which is also why I don't make many "bar" recipes.  I think 1/3 of the recipe would be totally fine for the 8" round and a half recipe better for a 9" round but my colleagues liked the ratio of the 1/2 recipe in the 8" round just fine and it's all gone now.

In the meantime, I'm hitting the wall.  I was social for a couple hours and my "yay, I feel better" feeling from my 5pm antibiotic is wearing off. On the good side, I have the "make something new" more than covered for March, and incidentally got my "bake something again" covered.  My recipes used 4 egg whites, leaving me yolks enough for a double batch of the best icebox cookies... so I made a double batch of those and have 5tubes of them in the freezer.  It seemed unseemly to bring some to the party, so they're technically unbaked but the dough tastes just right, so I'm calling the March resolution done, although I still plan to do the pistachio cake later.


rachel_elwell said...

I was inspired by your baking efforts and decided to give the “Apricot Windows” recipe another try. One correction to your post: the original recipe called for an 11x17 pan, not 9x13. Either way, that’s a lot of cookies. I decided to make 1/3 of the original recipe and use a 9” round springform pan. I also substituted peach jam for the apricot.

I still felt the dough was a little too stiff for piping those lines on top, so I added a couple of tablespoons of water to the part reserved for piping to thin it out a little. About halfway through the first line, I decided that straight lines are just not for me and went for a more squiggly aesthetic. Piping isn’t really my favorite task.

The other problem was that the biggest straight piping tip that I have is really small. Since the tips that I have are made out of plastic, Pete suggested cutting off the end with the Dremel to make the hole bigger, which was a great idea.

Here’s a link to the pics of my version:

Junior and Orion said...

Chef Cranky? Is that your new name? All of them look and sound delicious!