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Berry Almond Breakfast Cake

9 Aug

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This cake is a doozy. I know that it may seem rather bold of me to begin diving right into the accolades here—jeez, lady, tell us how you really feel—but there is little more that I can say about this cake than this: it is perfect

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This is the cake that I want in my sticky little hands when I think of coffee cake. This is the cake that I want to see in front of me when I imagine a streusel-topped, berry-filled breakfast treat. This is exactly the type of cake that will make almond-phobes (no, really—those actually exist) do a complete 180 and finally come around to the realization that almond cakes are a delightful, delectable thing to behold.

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Not surprisingly, this cake recipe hails from the great repertoire of Tartine, the bakery that satisfies all of my bakery dreams and needs. (What? You don’t have bakery dreams and needs? Surely, I can’t be the only one who…okay, never mind—maybe I don’t want to know the answer to that) With a light almond flavor, a perfect, buttery crumb topping, and an almost hidden layer of berries baked into delicious secrecy inside, I can’t think of another coffee cake I’ve had that checks off all the delightful, delectable boxes that this one does.

And now I am going to stop talking, because you need to drop what you are doing and make this cake right now.

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Last Year: Niçoise Cobb Salad, Homemade Lemonade and Limeade and White Bean and Tomato Bruschetta

Berry Almond Breakfast Cake

Adapted from Tartine, by Elizabeth Prueitt

Crumble topping:

½ cup (4 ounces) unsalted butter, slightly firmer than room temperature

¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons (4 ½ ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour

2/3 cup (3 ounces) almond meal or finely ground almonds

1/3 cup (about 2 ¼ ounces) granulated sugar

pinch of salt

Cake:

6 ounces of almond paste, or make your own almond paste by combining about ¾ of a cup (4 ounces) of blanched almonds with ½ cup (2 ounces) of powdered sugar and blending together in a food processor until the mixture becomes very fine and just starts to clump together

¾ cup (about 5 ¼ ounces) granulated sugar

¾ cup (6 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature.

1 ½ cups plus 2 tablespoons (7 ½ ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

3 large eggs, at room temperature

½ pint (about 5 ½ ounces) fresh berries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease and flour an 8-inch round cake pan.

To make the crumble topping, place the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on high speed until creamy. Add flour, almond meal, sugar, and salt and mix only until all of the ingredients are incorporated. You do not want a smooth mixture; it should still have a crumble appearance. If you overmix it, cover it and chill it for  about 1 hour, and then break it into crumble-sized pieces. Place the topping aside.

To make the cake, place the almond paste (or your own almond and confectioners’ sugar mixture) in the large bowl of the mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on low speed until the paste is broken up. Add the granulated sugar and gradually increase the speed to medium. Continue to mix until there are no lumps. Add the butter and mix until creamy, about 1 minute. Stop the mixer as needed to scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl with a spatula. On low speed, add the flour, baking powder, salt, and eggs all at once, then increase the speed to medium and mix just until everything is combined. Do not overmix.

Pour the cake batter into the prepared pan. Top with berries, distributing it evenly over the surface, and then add the crumble topping, scattering it evenly over the top of the berries. (At this point you can cover the assembled cake loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate it overnight. The next morning, remove the cake from the refrigerator and leave it out at room temperature for about 45 minutes before baking.)

Bake the cake until the crumble topping is golden brown and a cake tester inserted into a non-fruity part of the cake reveals a completely cooked, non-runny cake. Tartine’s cookbook says that this will take 40 minutes to accomplish, but my cake was not done until it had baked for 60 to 70 minutes (at 40 minutes the batter was still incredibly runny). My advice to you is to check the cake at 40 minutes, then, if it’s not done, continue to bake it, checking on it every 10 minutes or so to gauge its doneness.

Let the cake cool on a wire rack for at least 10 minutes before serving. Serve the cake directly from the pan. You will not be able to reliably remove it without completely destroying the cake.

Serves 8 to 12 people.

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Homemade Granola Bars

11 Apr

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If I were to tell you straight off the bat that these granola bars were made of whole grains, dried fruit, healthy nuts, and no added sugar or sweeteners, you would probably roll your eyes at me and then refuse a taste of what could only be an exercise of virtuous, boring, tasteless snacking. This would be a mistake, of course, because refusing a taste of one of these delicious granola bars is akin to refusing yourself a…well, a taste of a delicious granola bar. A really, really delicious granola bar.

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I am aware that most people do not give one hoot about what goes into a granola bar, and I understand why. Granola bars are not particularly exciting, and being readily available at any number of stores only adds to the banal nature of their status. But, if you are like me, and you like snacking, and you like your snacking to do as little damage to yourself as possible, you start to actually get interested in granola bars and the elements that make a fine granola bar what it is.

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As with energy bars, I tend to think that a granola bar should not be simply a disguised candy bar or a cookie. If you’re going to eat a candy bar or a cookie, just eat a candy bar or a cookie. Conversely, if you’re going to reach for a seemingly healthy granola bar, it should be all that its reputation advertises. Sweetened with pulverized dates and a hit of fresh, unfiltered apple cider (which is merely unfiltered apple juice, for all you Europeans out there), there is nary an extra sweetener included in these fellows. What is included in these granola bars, however, is a whole lot of stuff that is very good for you, and also has the added benefit of tasting good. It’s not all that often that you can find a place where those two distinctions overlap. Take advantage of that knowledge and put these to work right away.

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Another take on homemade granola bars (although a thicker, sweeter, heartier option) can be found here

Last Year: Cider-Braised Greens and Roasted Fingerling Sweet Potatoes with Lemon Tarragon Aioli

Homemade Granola Bars

2 cups oats (not quick-cooking oats)

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon sea salt

1 cup roughly chopped nuts or seeds of your choice (I used almonds, pepitas, and sunflower seeds)

½ cup dried fruit of your choice, roughly chopped to be of similar size to the nuts (I used chopped dried apricots, but raisins, dried cherries, or dried blueberries would also be good)

1 cup pitted whole dates (plain, with no added sugar)

¼ cup unfiltered apple cider (also called unfiltered apple juice)

1/3 cup almond butter

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a 9” by 13” baking pan with a sling of parchment paper, then slightly spray or brush the pan and paper with vegetable oil.

In a large bowl, combine the oats, cinnamon, sea salt, nuts, and dried fruit. Toss to combine.

In the bowl of a food processor or blender, combine the pitted dates and apple cider. Pulse until the mixture forms a thick paste, with some visible chunks of date still remaining.

In a medium bowl, combine date and cider mixture with almond butter, vanilla, and vegetable oil, then whisk to combine. Pour wet mixture over oat mixture. Using a spatula or wooden spoon, stir the ingredients together until they are thoroughly combined.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Wet your hands, then pat the mixture into the pan, pressing it down into the edges and corners. The mixture will really, really want to stick to your hands, so keep rewetting your hands as necessary until you’ve flattened the mixture completely into the pan.

Bake in the center of the oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until the edges are golden brown. I baked the batch pictured above for far too long, so it is overly darkened at the edges. Don’t make the same mistake.

Allow the bars to cool for at least an hour before attempting to cut them. Cutting with a large serrated knife (like a bread knife) works best for these. The granola bars will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for about a week, but they will keep indefinitely if kept in an airtight container in the freezer.

Sea Salt and Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

15 Mar

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It’s been awhile, hasn’t it? To all seven of you who read this website, I apologize for my sustained absence. There was work—lots of it—and there were late nights—lots of them—and then there was the inevitable crash afterwards that involved lots and lots of sleeping. Boy, that really makes it sound like my work involved the unregulated consumption of gratuitous amounts of alcohol, doesn’t it? It didn’t, by the way. There was no alcohol involved in any way. But! Moving along! Look what happened after all the work: cookies.

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My brother, cookie aficionado, tells me that these are his favorite chocolate chip cookies. This is no small amount of praise, since my brother just might be the world’s foremost expert on chocolate chip cookies. On more than one occasion, I have given him chocolate chip cookies as a birthday or Christmas gift, and the reception those cookies received was nothing short of rhapsodic. It was like watching a person being greeted by a heavenly specter. Or, you know, by really, really good chocolate chip cookies.

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The heart of this recipe lies with Cook’s Illustrated, they of the test-it-until-it-is-perfect methodology. Their recipe provides a good starting point, but I have always thought that the recipe fell short of perfect on account of its lack of oomph. The cookies were crisp at the edges and chewy in the middle—which was lovely—but the flavor was far too sweet for my tastes, and the sweetness sort of killed all the other elements of the cookie. Over the years, I have tinkered with the recipe until I came up with my own version, one that I like ten times better than the original, though I realize that such a statement is entirely reliant upon my own personal taste, and not the tastes of the masses. Still, if you enjoy the subtly nutty taste of brown butter, the deep flavor of brown sugar, and the undertone of sea salt, you’ll love these cookies as much as I do. And, of course, as much as my brother, Expert in All Things Chocolate Chip Cookie.

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Last Year: Italian-Style Herb Bread and Matambre-this dish’s name roughly translates into “hunger killer,” and, reading the recipe, you’ll soon see why

Sea Salt and Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

As noted in the ingredients below, you’ll really want to use either coarsely chopped bittersweet chocolate, or bittersweet chocolate chunks or féves. Regular chocolate chips are specifically formulated to not melt when baked, and you really want pure, melty chocolate in these cookies, as it really makes the whole cookie shine just that much more. If you are really keen on the saltiness of a sweet baked good, feel free to sprinkle just a touch of flaky sea salt on top of the cookies as they emerge from the oven.

1 ¾ cups (8 ¾ ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon baking soda

14 tablespoons (1 ¾ sticks) unsalted butter

1/3 cup (2 ¼ ounces) granulated sugar

¾ cup packed (5 ¼ ounces) dark brown sugar

1 ¼ teaspoons flaky sea salt

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1 large egg

1 large egg yolk

1 ¼ cups bittersweet chocolate chunks, féves, or chopped bittersweet chocolate

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Adjust oven rack to middle position. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour and baking soda. Set aside.

In a medium skillet or pan set over medium-high heat, melt butter. Continue cooking, swirling pan constantly (or stirring with a wooden spoon) until butter is dark golden brown and has a nutty scent, 2 to 4 minutes. Remove skillet from heat, then pour butter into a large heatproof bowl.

To the browned butter, add both sugars, sea salt, and vanilla. Whisk until fully incorporated. Add egg and egg yolk and whisk until smooth, about 30 seconds. Let mixture rest for 3 minutes in order to allow the sugar to really dissolve, then whisk again for 30 seconds, let mixture rest for 3 minutes, then repeat once more. The mixture will be smooth and shiny. Gently fold in the flour using a spatula or wooden spoon. When the flour is completely incorporated, stir in the chocolate chunks.

Measure out dough into 16 portions of roughly 3 tablespoons of dough per cookie. If you don’t desire such enormous cookies, portion out the cookies in 2 tablespoon chunks. Arrange cookies 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets, baking no more than 8 cookies at a time, per sheet (lest your cookies ooze into one another and attach into one long cookie).

Bake cookies 1 tray at a time, in the center of the oven, until cookies are golden brown and still puffy, and the centers are still soft, about 10 to 14 minutes for cookies made in 3-tablespoon portions, fewer minutes for smaller cookies. Transfer baking sheet to wire rack. Allow cookies to cool almost completely before eating (I like a still-warm cookie, but you can certainly let the cookies cool completely before eating and nothing bad will come of it).

Makes 16 to 24 cookies, depending on how large your cookie dough portions are.

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