Tuesday, July 15, 2014

TWD: Baking with Julia - Vanilla Pound Cake

I made Vanilla Pound Cake for this week's Tuesday's with Dorie recipe.  Yum.  This pound cake is made in a bundt or tube pan instead of a loaf pan, so it served as a great excuse to use my new beautiful bundt pan.  I do have other bundt pans, but now that I have this one, maybe I should give the others away?  I mean, why use a different pan when I have THIS one?  It's so pretty!  AND the cakes come out perfectly!  This pan is a wonder, I tell you.

Not only is this Vanilla Pound Cake beautiful, it is also delicious.  I made it to bring to a friend's house for Independence Day here in the States, and dressed it for the occasion with strawberries, blueberries and whipped cream, to give it the appropriate red, white, and blue accessories. 

Covering it with berries and whipped cream does take away from the beauty of the cake a bit, but such garnishes are never a bad idea for the palate!  Oh, and I macerated the strawberries in sugar and balsamic vinegar, so they were extra scrumptious! 

But to be honest, I did like the cake best when it was solo.  That is when the vanilla flavor really came out and I could savor the flavor and the texture in my mouth a bit longer (instead of shoveling it in my mouth on July 4, while sharing dallops of my whipped cream with the clever boy.)  This cake is not only tasty when it is made, but it is also delicious the next day, and actually for several days thereafter if wrapped well in plastic wrap.  In fact, I'd almost say it was even better a day later, as it seemed like the vanilla was even more prominent at that point.

This recipe is a definite keeper.  It is easy and delicious.  What more do you need?

Vanilla Pound Cake
adapted from Baking with Julia
serves 16-20

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature, whisked to blend
1 cup milk, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Position an oven rack in the lower 1/3 of the oven and preheat to 350F.  Butter and flour a 10-inch tube pan or bundt pan and set aside.

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together onto some waxed paper or parchment paper.  Set this aside.

Beat the butter in an electric mixer using the paddle attachment at medium speed until smooth.  Add the sugar in a steady stream while the mixer continues to run.  Stop and scrape the bowl with a rubber spatula as necessary.  Beat at medium until the butter and sugar mixture is very light and fluffy, 4-5 minutes.

With the mixer still on medium speed, add the eggs, 1 tablespoon at a time.  If the mixture becomes watery or shiny stop adding eggs and turn the mixer to a higher speed until the mixture smooths out again.  Then decrease the speed ad continue adding the eggs, scraping down the bowl and paddle as necessary.  This process will take 3-4 minutes.   The mixture is properly combined when it looks white, fluffy, and increased in volume.

Reduce the mixer speed to low and slowly add the flour alternately with milk.  There will be 4 additions of flour and 3 of milk.  Scrape the bowl frequently and mix until the batter is smooth after each addition.  Add the vanilla and mix just to blend.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.  Bake for 55-65 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.  Transfer the cake to a cooling rack and allow to cool in the pan for 10 minutes.  Invert the cake onto the rack, remove the pan, an cool to room temperature.  Serve the cake in very thin slices.

Keep the cake covered at room temperature or wrap airtight and freeze for a month.
Printable Recipe

Very soon after making this pound cake, a friend told me that he was craving a chocolate pound cake.  Anyone have a favorite recipe to share?   I'd love to see it!

Check out the TWD blog to see what other bakers thought of this pound cake!

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Italian Meatballs with Creamy Polenta

After the clever girl's dance recital, we went to one of our favorite Italian restaurants to celebrate/relax.   The recital was tons of fun for the clever girl, and lots of work for me!  She had 2 costume changes which is a lot of running back and forth to the back-stage area, trying not to break my neck in the dark.  But why we (i.e. I) really needed to relax is from the make-up situation.  Yes, for the dance recital, the clever girl has (HAS would be my word, GETS would be hers) to wear makeup.  And we aren't just saying a tad bit, it's, well, a lot, by my standards.  Powder, blush, eye shadow, mascara, and the dreaded/beloved (again, a perspective thing) "Cherries in the Snow" lipstick.  This is by the request of the dance studio, of course.  If you aren't part of this particular dance studio, you probably are not familiar with Cherries in the Snow.  Because, honestly, I can't for the life of me figure out what grown woman would wear this color lipstick.  It is a BRIGHT red/fuschia color.  And when you apply it to your little 6yr old girl, the look is shocking.  Kind of a "how to make your child look like a... " well, let's not go there, but I think you probably get the drift.  The first time we put it on the clever girl, she even said that it needed to be toned down a bit.  Okay?  Anyway, after the hair is done (no fly-aways!!) and the make-up is applied, my innocent little girl looked about 16 years old, and my future flashed in front of my eyes.  It was scary!  As you can see, I am still a bit traumatized by the situation. 

Are you wondering what this has to do with meatballs?  I'll tell you, I promise.  We went to the yummy Italian place for dinner, where the clever boy absolutely went to town on these giant meatballs that we ordered.  He LOVED them.  A-HA!  I thought.  I must make giant meatballs!  I decided to serve them with creamy polenta because, well, it's a really great idea and because the clever boy loves polenta as well.  Win-win dinner plan!

After lots of research into the best Italian Meatball recipe, I settled on the recipe below.  Though many swear by using beef, pork and veal in meatballs, I have a THING about veal so I needed a 2-meat meatball.  These were perfect!  Don't be alarmed by the long list of ingredients - they are easy to find and the recipe is pretty easy and fast to put together!

Italian Meatballs
adapted from Simply Recipes
Makes about 16 meatballs

1 pound ground beef (at least 16% fat)
1 pound ground pork
2/3 cup milk (whole or 2%)
3 slices of white bread, crusts removed
1/4 cup ricotta cheese
1/4 cup grated parmesan or romano cheese
2 eggs
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
1 TB chopped fresh parsley
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
about 1 cup flour, for dusting
1/3 cup olive oil
2 1/2 cups (24 oz.) tomato sauce (your own or use following recipe)

Tomato Sauce
2 TB olive oil
3/4 cup finely chopped onions
3/4 cup finely chopped carrots
3/4 cup finely chopped celery
2 TB chopped fresh parsley
1 garlic clove, minced
1 28 -oz. can crushed or whole tomatoes, including the juice (I recommend using San Marzano tomatoes if you can find them)
1/2 teaspoon dried basil or 2 TB chopped fresh basil
2 teaspoon tomato paste
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

If you are using the above recipe for tomato sauce, start with that.  The sauce will simmer while you prepare the meatballs.  Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the onions, carrots, celery and parsley (I chopped them all together in the food processor).  Stir to coat with the oil, reduce the heat to low, and cover the pan.  Cook until the vegetables are soft and coked through, about15-20 minutes.  Remove the cover, add the garlic, and increase the heat to medium-high.  Cook the garlic for 30 seconds and then add the tomatoes.  If you are using whole canned tomatoes, break them up with your fingers as you add them, otherwise just dump in the can of crushed tomatoes.  Add the tomato paste and basil and season with salt and pepper.   Bring to a low simmer, reduce the heat to low, and allow to cook uncovered until thick 15-30 minutes.  Puree the sauce in a blender or food processor, or push through a food mill, and pour it back into the large skillet.

For the meatballs:  Heat the milk in a small saucepan until steamy.  Turn off the heat, tear the bread into little pieces, and soak it in the milk until the bread partially dissolves.  Mash the bread until it is paste-like.  Pour it onto a plate to cool.

In a large bowl, combine the meats, cheeses, eggs, salt, herbs, pepper, garlic and the bread-mixture (all of the ingredients ABOVE the flour for dusting).  Mix well with your hands until it barely combines.  Don't overwork the mixture, this will make for tough meatballs!  It's ok to have some clear bits of bread or meat in the mix - better than than tough meatballs.

Pour the flour into a pie pan or other flat dish.  Wet your hands and form meatballs.  A traditional size is 2-3 inches.  Mine were closer to 3+.  Once the meatball is rolled in your hands, roll it in flour.   Set each floured meatball on a baking sheet as you finish the other meatballs.

When all of the meatballs are ready, heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Brown the meatballs on at least 2 sides.  They will continue cooking in the sauce, so don't worry about getting them all the way done.

Arrange the browned meatballs in the sauce, turning each one over so it is coated.  Cover and simmer gently for 15-20 minutes.  Serve with the sauce and creamy polenta!
Printable Recipe

Creamy Polenta
adapted from The Kitchn
Makes about 4 cups

4 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup polenta or yellow cornmeal
1 cup cheese (optional)
1-3 TB butter (optional)

Bring the water to a boil and add the salt.  Pour the polenta into the boiling water while whisking constantly.  Turn the heat down to low and continue to whisk as the polenta thickens.  Cover the pan and cook for 30-40 minutes, stirring vigorously every 10 minutes or so.  Make sure you scrape down the sides and around the corners of the pan.  If you are using cheese and butter, add this after the polenta is at the consistency that you prefer.  Serve immediately, or cover and let sit for up to 15 minutes before serving. 
Printable Recipe
Yum.  Happy baby, happy family!  This is great comfort food!  The meatballs are nice and soft in the middle, but a bit of a crisp on the outside.  The tomato sauce is really flavorful and quite good.  Serve it all on a bed of creamy cheesy polenta and it is happiness on a plate!  This is a wonderful way to recover from any particular stressful situation.  Add a glass of red wine (or not if you prefer) and you have taken a giant step in the direction of AHHHHH.  I wish for you to have more time in bliss, and to never have to experience the Cherries in the Snow!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

TWD: Baking with Julia - Leaf-Shaped Fougasse

The bizarre looking thing above is a Leaf-Shaped Fougasse, which is really a fancy way of saying that it is (or is supposed to be) a leaf-shaped focaccia bread.  If you think LEAF in your head, I guess it sort of looks like a leaf, right?  Right?

Honestly, I am not sure why one might make a leaf-shaped focaccia bread.  Maybe for a bread basket at a fancy Thanksgiving dinner?  But then it would be sliced up already so no one would see the leaf shape.  But I guess you could say this about any fancy shaped bread - the braids, the wreaths, etc.  And I do love those.  Maybe I was just not as excited about the leaf.

However,  the dough is not at all difficult to make, only sort of time consuming, as it has to rest for at least overnight if not a bit more in order to get the texture that you want.  And honestly, it must be pretty forgiving dough, as I messed up a bit and then had to finagle it a bit and it still worked out!  I made a half recipe, and when I was measuring out my 3 1/4 cups of flour, I accidentally grabbed my 3/4-cup measure instead of the 1-cup measure.  I kept thinking, "wow, this dough is really sticky and moist" and silently cursing the humid climate we have here in Houston.  So I added a little more flour, and then a little more....   I did get the "window" in the dough, so I hoped for the best.  I set the dough aside to rest for the first rise and started cleaning up the kitchen, and then noticed the cup measure switcheroo. Hmmm.  I did debate in my head tossing the entire thing out and starting over, but laziness prevailed and I just hoped for the best.  And it worked!  So there you go!  Forgiving dough!  Bread success after chaos! I'll take it!

My fougasse looks so weird because I had troubles transferring the dough from my peel, where it looked nice and pretty and was a decent take on the photo in the book, to the hot baking stone in the oven.  The dough preferred to stay on the peel, even though it was nicely dusted with cornmeal to help it slide better.  I had to shimmy and shake it onto the stone and then sort of reshape it before slamming the oven door.  I wonder if anyone else had a better method of transfer??

This is a tasty dough, and has a nice chew.  I reviewed my thoughts of this recipe for when we did the focaccia, and that time I made it too thin and didn't get the nice puff that foccacia is supposed to have.  This time I did and it was much better!  I think the lesson to be learned here is to GO WITH THE FLOW and it will all turn out okay! 

A nice lesson for life, I think!

This recipe can be found on pages 146-147 of Baking with Julia.  Check out how the other bakers fared with this recipe by going to the TWD blog and clicking on LYL- Leaf-Shaped Fougasse.