23 May 2010

Butterscotch Pralines (and LOST)

This week's SMS assignment was to make Butterscotch Pralines. I've never made candy before because (1) I had an unfortunate accident with hot sugar when I was in the fifth grade, and (2) Most candy recipes say to make them on a cool, dry day. I lived my entire life in the Deep South, and I now make my home in Virginia. We get about five cool, dry days per year. But I do remember reading that pralines were originally a french candy more akin to a brittle but when made in the warm, humid climate of New Orleans, they turn into a deliciously creamy and slightly grainy confection. So the warm-ish, damp weather today (also the day of the LOST finale!) could only help. I hoped.

Here we are coming up to a soft ball. Having never cooked with sugar before I was surprised how the temperature stayed low for a while, shot up to about 230, then hung around there for quite some time before finally going up to 238. I'm sure there is a scientific reason for this.
After the sugars (and other things) were properly cooked, I transferred it to my mixer bowl, added butterscotch chips, and let 'er rip.
Once it was creamy, I added the bits of pecan. I didn't get a picture of this stage because the candy was really wanting to set up, and I just went ahead and scooped it while I still could.
I haven't had one of the candies yet (they're setting even as I type), but I did lick the bowl, and let me tell you, these are really delicious. One thing I might do differently next time is toast the pecans, but honestly, these are pretty close to perfect as they are. Thanks to Tess of the Cookin' Chemist for picking such a nice recipe!

16 May 2010

Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln . . .

So, the idea for this week’s SMS was to make pumpkin bread pudding, selected by the lovely Carmen of Baking is my Zen. It sounded like a really lovely, lightly spicy and creamy dessert. There was a delicious-looking sauce. The pictures people put up early looked lovely. I got ready to bake today and realized: You know what’s hard to find in May?


So hard, in fact, that I looked through the fruit, vegetable, and baking aisles at WM three times before I gave up and regrouped. After some hemming and hawing and looking through both pantry and cookbooks, I decided on chocolate bread pudding with chocolate chips and dried cherries.

It all got off to an inauspicious start at WF, where they did not have brioche at all. (This is central Virginia, after all, not Paris.) I settled for a big loaf of challah, which I reckoned would be a nice substitute, what with the egginess and butteriness.

(Yes, the wise woman would have bought the pumpkin while she was at WF. I am clearly not that woman.)

Also, the cinnamon sticks were a bit spendy, especially considering I have enough ground cinnamon to last until I’m fifty. Ditto whole cloves. And vanilla beans. So when the canned pumpkin just did not show up, I took it as a sign.

What I ended up doing was following the approximate portions provided in How to Cook Everything (Bittman) with some of the techniques in the Sweet Melissa Baking Book. I toasted about 8 ounces of challah cubes.

Then I cooked together a mixture of milk and cream totaling three cups with a bit of butter the size of a walnut and two ounces of bittersweet chocolate. After the chocolate melted I set it aside to cool for a bit before whisking it into three beaten eggs.

I layered the bread cubes in a dish with a handful of chocolate chips and a handful of dried cherries. (I put a layer of bread on top of this too.)

Then I strained the chocolate custard into the dish and left it to soak while I did the dishes.

It went into a water bath, then the oven for about 45 minutes.
It was good! I think the dried cherries really made it. Bread pudding is never going to look like much (as John helpfully observed), which is probably why it's usually served with a sauce of some kind. Oh yeah, I didn't do the sauce either.

SO! Basically I just made whatever I darn well pleased and called it a SMS entry. I probably wouldn't have made bread pudding unprompted, though, so that's got to count for something, right?

06 May 2010

The Harvest

So, this year I'm trying Dominion Harvest, a local-food delivery service. You pay some money, they source and deliver food (mostly veggies, but also fruit, eggs, cheese, and herbs) right to your door. Mine arrived last night, and I'm pleased with it -- haven't had a chance to cook with it yet, but I did just have some feta as a little snack.

Look at the arty effect! There's lots of lettuce, some arugula, asparagus, eggs, sweet potatoes, green onions, strawberries, blackberry jam, parsley, and the aforementioned cheese. I'm really looking forward to the arugula, which I've never cooked with before. The company provided a suggested strawberry and arugula salad, which I think I'll try. I'm also hearing good things about arugula pesto. Maybe this weekend?

03 May 2010

Peanut Butter Truffles!

I'm always wanting motivation to bake more, so I joined a baking/blogging challenge: Sweet Melissa Sundays. The idea is to prepare a tasty treat from the Sweet Melissa Baking Book and share experiences (and drool-worthy photos) about it. My first entry (which I really did do on Sunday, just didn't have time to blog about it then) was Peanut Butter Truffles, hosted by the lovely Mara of Love Your Mother Earth.

Here are all the wonderful components of the truffle: peanut butter and cream heating on the stove, chocolate waiting to be chopped, and butter. Later on I'll chop up some peanuts.

I've poured the hot cream over the chocolate. Doesn't look too promising.
But after sitting around for a few minutes, it whisks to a lovely smooth consistency. I then beat in the butter. It would have melted more quickly had it not been practically frozen when I put it in.

The rich, smooth mixture chilled in the fridge while we watched a few episodes of Battlestar Galactica and ate some pizza. (Also homemade because that's how I roll.) I couldn't take a picture while I was scooping and rolling the chocolate into little peanut-covered balls -- my hands got too messy for camera operations -- but don't they look nice sitting in the refrigerator?
They're delicious and rich. I do wish there was more of a peanut butter flavor, and also that I'd bought more heavily salted peanuts. And maybe chopped them a little finer. I took the good advice of several other folks and made half a batch, which translated into about 30 truffles.

Lots of fun!