Saturday, February 27, 2010

Almonds failure and picking up the pieces: Amarettinis

Usually, us savvy cooks, we only post on our blogs our success histories but with the failures, we do as somebody said: If at first you don't succeed, destroy all evidence than you tried. But sometimes, we listen to Beckett:
"Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail Better"
This is my latest failure with a nice recovery. I found this delicious and simple recipe for Amaretto cookies, nice and fat little round almond balls. The original recipe called for blanched almonds, bitter almond sugar, white sugar, egg whites and confectioner's sugar. Fool proof, eh? Well, no. I had to get creative. Instead of 4 drops of bitter almond oil, I tempted fate with olive oil and Di Saronno Amaretto. I was able to roll the little balls, but once on the baking sheet, they deflated like balloons running out of helium and I got a hellish, flat, single layer of dough. Nothing has been written about cowards, so I decided to go ahead and bake it at 250 F.

The result was like a thin sheet of a chewy almond cookie, actually edible! I cut it in little pieces, sprinkled confectioners sugars and baptized it as Amarettinis :D Very nice as a snack or with cookies.

The ingredients for the cookies are as follows:

For 45 cookies
* 1/2 pound blanched almonds
* 4 drops bitter almond oil
* 3/4 white cup sugar
* 2 egg whites
* 1 tablespoon confectioners sugar, to sprinkle the cookies once baked

Preheat the oven at 250 F. Grind  finely the almonds when you are ready to make the cookies, to keep the flavor. Mix the almonds with almond oil, white sugar and lightly beaten egg whites. Knead the mixture until it gets a firm consistency. Moisten your hands and roll the dough into small balls, 1" in diameter. Place the balls on a baking sheet, covered with parchment paper or a non stick baking mat. Loosely cover the balls with tin foil, to prevent aliens reading their little minds (and over browning). Place the sheet on the bottom rack and bake for about an hour. Dust the cookies with confectioner's sugar using a sieve.

Now, if you want to go the Actor's Studio route and mimic my mess, replace the bitter almond oil with a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil and 2 tablespoons of Di Saronno, make a mess, don't even bother to roll the balls, lay a layer of the dough on the baking sheet and there you go, Amarettinis! :D Once baked, cut it in pieces and dust it with confectioner's sugar.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Tiramisu: an Italian delight

Tiramisu is one of my favorite desserts; cocoa, wine, coffee... some of my favorites together, you cannot go wrong. Tiramisu is a quite new dish, its origin goes back to the 80's. There are several theories about who and when invented this heavenly dessert, but the most common is that it was created in Treviso, at Le Beccherie by the goddaughter and apprentice of the owner, Francesca Valori, whose maiden name was Tiramisu. 
For the longest time I had been hunting a good recipe for Tiramisu: please don't talk to me about instant coffee, ricotta cheese, Kahlua and other atrocious variations. I found a page dedicated to Tiramisu (I will mercifully omit the name, there were really horrible recipes there). I am not against variations, one of the pleasures of cooking is to experiment, but some recipes there were garish (one included Philadelphia cheese, sour cream, dream whip, coffeemate and coffee syrup, you catch my drift). I decided to look for recipes from Italy and I found one simple and classic enough. And delicious! . The recipe call for something called savoiardi. Those are the equivalent of ladyfingers. Here is the translation of the recipe.

Ingredients (for 6 people):
* 14 ounces of savoiardi (ladyfingers)
* 5 eggs at room temperature
* 1 cup of white sugar
* 2 cups of Mascarpone cheese
* 1/4 to 1/2 cup of Marsala wine, depending on how much you want to spice it up
* 2 cups of good espresso coffee
* Unsweetened cocoa powder

Make as many coffee pots as necessary to get 2 cups. I would strongly recommend to make a good espresso coffee, not a watery mix. Let the coffee cool off.

Separate the whites from the yolks. Beat the yolks with the sugar in  the electric mixer for at least 5 minutes, until you get a smooth and thick cream. Add the Mascarpone cheese, a spoonful at a time and fold with a wooden spoon, carefully. If necessary, towards the end, put it back in the electric mixer and mix slowly for a few seconds only, to homogenize the mixture. Add then the Marsala wine. 

Separately, beat the egg whites until you get stiff peaks. Carefully fold them into the mixture you already prepared.

Take a rectangular or square pan and start lining up ladyfingers, until you cover the bottom. You can soak them first in coffee, or you can pour the coffee carefully on top of them, soaking them while they are in the pan.

Put a thick layer of cream on the ladyfingers and cover it with a second layer of ladyfingers. Cover with another thick layer of cream, sprinkle cocoa thoroughly on top and put it in the fridge for a few hours. 

Because it is made with raw eggs, make sure you keep it in the fridge and make sure your kitchen is spotless before you start cooking. Wash the eggs before cracking them and discard the shells immediately. The risk is not that high, but better be safe than sorry.

Preparation time: 1 hour

Et voila le Coq au vin

And here is the Coq au Vin. It was really fun to cook and easier than I thought. Just keep the simmer going and don't singe your eyebrows while doing the flambe! :D I followed Julia Child's suggestion and I made a side of parsley potatoes. I have lunch for tomorrow! :D

New Baking carrito!

Tired of hunting for baking implements and ingredients, ta-da! my new baking cart, with everything handy :D

New design, new recipes

At last I have a new design, one it really reflects what's cooking in my brain! :) Thanks to the Blog Fairy ( she works well, she works fast, she reads minds and she is extraordinarily talented. Kudos!

I completed my pending classes (Vietnamese cuisine, French pastry, ravioli) and I have nothing lined up now, I will have to shake things a little bit. Vietnamese cuisine class was fascinating, but it was not that cool to prepare 3 dishes at home by myself: we are talking 3 hours of prepping here, people. Once a year, with a bunch of friends cheering at home (better if they are knife proficient) and a nice glass of wine, but not  for every day. French pastry was extremely interesting but scary: talk about the butterfly effect. If a "pages" in Catalonia pays his electricity invoice, something may get altered in the recipe you are cooking in New Jersey. Or at least, so it seems. Yet, worth to try, a very delicate and tasty science. Ravioli was as fun as one can imagine. Once you get the knack of the machine, you start churning like crazy. Now, it comes the search for pasta recipes, the right blend of spices, flours and oils.

Today Sunday, I am going to tackle another Julia Child's classic, Coq au vin. Sometimes I am puzzled when I start reading her recipes, I wonder, is it *really* necessary to do all this? can we just jump from a) to d) and skip the skimming or the changing or pots or some weird and obscure voodoo juju? Well, once you start cooking the pieces fall into place. You see why no, you should not skip a single Child's spell and how what to do influences your food. It is a pleasure to cook but also a wonderful learning experience.