Saturday, December 29, 2012

Baked Sunday Mornings- Classic Shortbread with Fleur de Sel

I enjoy taking a break in the late afternoon - some call it "tea time", some call it a "coffee break". Regardless of what you call it, I think it's essential to have something sweet beside that drink. Something not too heavy that will ruin your appetite for dinner; just a little "something" to get you through the rest of the day. These shortbread cookies are just the answer. I love the touch of fleur de sel sprinkled on top- again, that combination of sweet and salty will get you every time( or at least it gets me!)

I did some playing around with the photos , practicing all kinds of lighting and positions. I know the photo above probably goes against all the rules, with the shadows  etc. but I actually like it so here it is.
I recently bought a large "slice" of an olive tree while we were visiting the Druze village of Ussifiya in the north of Israel ( more on that trip in an upcoming post). The carpenter sanded it and cleaned it up for me, then oiled it to bring out the gorgeous grains.  I used it as my background and I love the effect it gives.

Making these was not difficult , but still a bit tricky. It is important to get the right texture and not overwork the dough. I think I still need to practice it a few times to get the correct feel. It broke apart somewhat during the rolling which probably was a result of the dough being too cold. Below are the first batch results- tried dipping them in chocolate, but wasn't happy with the way it looked or tasted to be honest. Some were rolled too thin, and over-baked.  The final batch came out the best. All the cookies were good, even the well done ones! I like this recipe because it lends itself to playing around with lots of flavors. Next time I'll try some vanilla and add a hint of orange flavor as well. 
You can find the recipe here on Baked Sunday Mornings.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Baked Sunday Mornings-Holiday Spice Cake with Eggnog Buttercream

Okay, so I've never tasted eggnog before.( Is she serious, you say?!) Yup, it's true! Guilty as charged- no excuses other than I was just never presented with the opportunity. Without having tasted eggnog, I had no idea what the butter cream was supposed to taste like. Let me tell you, it soooooo doesn't matter , because whatever the taste is supposed to be, this frosting is delicious.

Found this serving plate and couldn't resist!
 I knew in advance that I would make cupcakes since I had no use for a whole cake and this way I could freeze them for future use or hand them out to friends and family. I love those warm, winter type spices of cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger etc. The combination is soothing and comforting, while not being overly sweet.

Then my daughters found these to match and bought me a gift! It's true... cake does complete me!

I must say, I had my doubts about the frosting as I was making it. It didn't seem to come together , but I persisted and eventually it developed in to the creamiest, smoothest butter cream I have ever tasted. This is one recipe I will use again and adapt it to all different flavors. Sweet, but not sickeningly sweet, and since the sugar is cooked, there is no gritty taste.

No question I will use this for a cake at the right opportunity. You can find the recipe here. Enjoy and stay warm!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Baked Sunday Mornings- Soft Candy Carmels

Candy making is a fascinating process. It's really a lesson in chemistry. Watching what different temperatures do to sugar is something I never learned in chemistry class in high school ( which I barely got through, by the way).
One essential component of candy making is patience- not something I've won prizes for in the past! Having made caramels before ( apple cider caramels by Smitten Kitchen) and Fleur de Sel Spirals ( by Gesine Bullock-Prado), I knew the process and  developed some of that precious "patience" thing. Believe me, it's worth it. Temperature, time and keeping an unflinching eye on everything, make the difference between a success and a hot mess of either undercooked or burned (smelly and smokey) sugar. ( and a nasty clean-up as well)

This recipe from Baked Elements is easy to follow and the results are scrumptious. I had a bit of trouble removing the tin foil from the caramels, even though I sprayed it as directed. To resolve that problem, I stuck them in the freezer for about 20 minutes and other than a few stray pieces, managed to get it all off. Wrapping took a long time but the results are so fun to look at, not to mention the great taste. They're soft, very caramelly(? is that a word?) and just melt in your mouth. I packaged them in pink Chinese food type boxes, ready to give as gifts.

  You can get the recipe here.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Jerusalem Culinary Tour #1

I love to travel. 
I love to eat. 
I love to eat and travel at the same time. 

Before any trip, within the country or abroad, the main focus of my research is always food; foods the country or place is famous for, recommended restaurants, food shops to explore, etc. For me, it's not museums or monuments- it's walking endlessly through the local streets and finding culinary treasures.

I stumbled across an opportunity to sign up for a series of three culinary tours in Jerusalem. How perfect! Of course I immediately sent in my registration and began counting the days until the first tour.
Last Friday Last month was the first tour, scheduled for the Old City. Since the situation here was not ideal for walking through the Old City, they decided to switch the last tour with the first, so we were off to the "shtetel", Yiddish for town, Mea Sha'arim, the ultra-religious section of Jerusalem. Since appropriate dress is the rule for this area, I found myself going through my closet , trying to find something long enough to cover my knees (no pants) and long sleeved shirts. After tearing my entire wardrobe apart and coming across nothing suitable for the occasion, I dragged myself to the mall , going from store to store, trying on dress and skirt, after dress and skirt. Anyone who knows me, knows how much I LOVE trying on clothes..........long story short- found nothing. Came home to reassess the situation and decided on tights, a long tunic, high boots and just for safety sake, took along a very large scarf that I could wrap around me as a skirt if necessary ( which it was!) Too bad I didn't take a picture of myself- quite a sight.

As luck would have it, the day was cold, very rainy and not the best for a walking tour- but those are the kinds of days I love!
The streets were bustling and busy with people buying and preparing for Shabbat.
It's really a different world in Mea Sha'arim and although I don't necessarily agree with the ideology or way of life, I try to respect and appreciate the customs and beliefs of others.
A few of the places we visited.......

Avihail Bakery- making rugelach

a men's hat store- all shapes and sizes for all the different streams of the Haredim(ultra-religious)



Brooklyn Bakery- black and white cookies ( or as I call them where I come from- half-moons)

black and white cake- I HAVE to make this one on my own!!
Hadar Geula- buying homemade food for Shabbat

               pasted wall notices- a means of communicating ideas and announcements in Mea Sha'arim-
 this one is urging the ultra-religious to refrain from use of smartphones

This was just a sampling of the stores and food places  on the tour. At times it was raining so hard, I couldn't even take out my camera. I came home with a belly full of traditional Jewish foods, an amazing learning experience and a taste for more. I'll be back here for sure on  my own to spend more time wandering through the streets and shops of this very unique neighborhood in Jerusalem.

Now, I'm looking forward to the next tour at the end of this month. On our way to Shuk Mahane Yehuda
 ( marketplace), what many consider the best shuk in the country. See you there!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Spicy Brownies


The new ( maybe not so new , but still innovative) rage is sweet and salty-everything from caramels to cookies to cakes- and it's delicious. For some, the thought of combining the two tastes is unthinkable, but if you let your palate experience the flavors, you will understand what I mean. I love the idea of mixing salty pretzels with chocolate, sprinkling fleur de sel on the top of a chocolate frosted cake or, in the other direction, adding chocolate to a sauce for chicken or meat.

This week on Baked Sunday Mornings, the assignment was not actually sweet and salty , but sweet and spicy. I have read a lot about the mixture of peppery spices to sweet dishes, especially chocolate. This was the perfect opportunity to try it for myself. The recipe calls for ancho chile powder, which I cannot find for the life of me ( at least here in Israel) so I did some research on how to substitute. I ground up some sweet chile seeds with a small amount of hot chile pepper seeds and came out with something that tastes great- don't know if it has any resemblance to ancho chile powder but it was worth a try. In any case, ancho chile powder is on my list for my next visit to the States ( adding one more food item to the long list I already have!)

The result is heavenly. The cinnamon flavor comes across quite dominant ( which I love!) mixed with the strong chocolate flavor. That in itself is enough.... but then after chewing and swallowing, you suddenly get that slight burst of spiciness. Not overwhelming, but just enough to let you know it's there, and is it ever out of this world. The texture of the brownies is fudgy and just melts in your mouth. This is a definite keeper!

You have two choices before serving these to people- tell them in advance about the spice or let them find out for themselves. They'll thank you either way!
rich chocolate, ancho chile powder and warm cinnamon

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Baked Sunday Mornings-No Bake Peanut Butter Cookies ( with a twist)

Although I love to bake, the words "no bake" always catch my eye. Can something that is just stirred together without baking actually be tasty? The answer is YES!!!
These no bake peanut butter cookies are from Baked Explorations, the second book from Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito of the famed Baked in N.Y.  
I'm joining other bakers from "Baked Sunday Mornings" in this weeks assignment. These cookies or candies or whatever you may call them, are easy , fast, somewhat healthy ( well.... they have oats and peanut butter in them- they're healthy aren't they?) and most important of all, delicious. Easy, peasy , as they say , and you can be sure kids and adults alike will gobble them up quickly. 

I followed the recipe exactly (you can find it here) except for one little twist ,which I think , gives the cookies an extra dimension of taste. Instead of 1 cup of peanut butter , I used 1/2 cup of peanut butter and 1/2 cup of speculoos spread.
I am in love with speculoos spread. I use it at every opportunity.  The spread is a paste version of the cookie and is made by a number of companies. Below is the one I found though I have tried others- all good. Actually, "good" is an understatement. The spread is so delicious you I can eat it right from the spoon like a lollipop! It has become the filling for my alfajores instead of dulce de leche. But that's another post altogether.

Anyhoo.... go make these cookies; candies, treats... whatever you want to call them..... right now! Hint: put them in the freezer-they're even better frozen!