Monday, March 21, 2011

The Return of Dessert

Dear Boo,

I had an embarrassing moment recently when a friend of mine told me she had been searching through our blog looking for desserts and that she was disappointed to see we have but a paltry number of sweet recipes. Now, I'm admittedly someone who lost her sweet tooth somewhere around 2002 after a stint working at City Bakery over the summer. I can't say whether it was a direct result of all the frozen hot chocolate and butter-drenched cookies, but somehow I found myself, previously unable to reach a satisfying finish to a meal without at least a couple of bites of cake/cookies/tart/ice cream, suddenly with only a passing interest in dessert. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy a bite of dark chocolate, or a good milkshake, and I've recently rediscovered the pleasure of an early morning cheese danish, thanks to our mother, but it's just not where my cooking or eating passion lies. I'd much rather spend my time standing over a steaming pot on the stove, tasting and seasoning, sauteeing and deglazing, tasting, and tasting again, than coaxing egg whites to stiffen into peaks just so, checking that a toothpick yields perfectly moist crumbs, and measuring, measuring, forever measuring.

But the importance of dessert cannot be overlooked. When planning a dinner like the one I had recently, a belated birthday meal for the Mother on a semi-historic occasion in which she met, for the first time, the soon-to-be-father-in-law who was visiting from Florida, whether or not one will make a dessert is not really a question up for debate. It just wouldn't be dinner without it.

And so it is with great pleasure that I see your chocolate chip soda bread (can you please fedex me some?), and raise you one Tarte Tatin, a dessert for all those non-bakers out there (and those combing our archives in vain for something sweet). There's barely any measuring, no dough making, no electric beaters to clean, and since you're baking in a cast-iron skillet, you might even be able to trick yourself into thinking you're throwing together some hash-browns. Now that's my kind of dessert.

The Mouse

What's lurking under that golden crust? Not a chicken pot pie, I can tell you that much.

Tarte Tatin
courtesy of Gourmet, RIP

frozen puff pastry sheet (from a 17 1/4-ounce package)
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
7 to 9 Gala apples (3 to 4 pounds), peeled, quartered lengthwise, and cored

Special equipment: a well-seasoned 10-inch cast-iron skillet

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Defrost pastry so you can work with it. Roll pastry sheet into a 101/2-inch square on a floured work surface with a floured rolling pin. Brush off excess flour and cut out a 10-inch round with a sharp knife, using a plate as a guide. Transfer round to a baking sheet and chill.

Spread butter thickly on bottom and side of skillet and pour sugar evenly over bottom. Arrange as many apples as will fit vertically on sugar, packing them tightly in concentric circles. Apples will stick up above rim of skillet. (for a visual on how to do this, check out this tip)

Cook apples over moderately high heat, undisturbed, until juices are deep golden and bubbling, 18 to 25 minutes. (Don't worry if juices color unevenly.)

Put skillet in middle of oven over a piece of foil to catch any drips. Bake 20 minutes (apples will settle slightly), then remove from oven and lay pastry round over apples.

Bake tart until pastry is browned, 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer skillet to a rack and cool at least 10 minutes.

Before serving, invert a platter with lip over skillet and, using potholders to hold skillet and plate tightly together, invert tart onto platter. Be careful not to lose any of the caramel--some of mine poured out when I did the flip. Replace any apples that stick to skillet. (Don't worry if there are black spots; they won't affect the flavor of the tart.)

Brush any excess caramel from skillet over apples. Serve with cream, whipped cream, or ice cream.

Cooks' note: ·Tart can cool in skillet up to 30 minutes. It can also stand, uncovered, up to 5 hours, then be heated over moderately low heat 1 to 2 minutes to loosen caramel. Shake skillet gently to loosen tart before inverting.

Monday, March 14, 2011

American Soda Bread (Patty's Day '11)

Dear Mouse,

Am I really about to say this? Let's see:

"That was the most delicious thing I've baked".

To set this up: Happy Purim AND St. Patty's Day! Is it always like that and I just never noticed? Both of our ethnicities, on the same DAY, celebrating past religion-related triumphs with drunken frivolity and silly costumes? Wow.

R: Corned beef and cabbage at Cunningham's, a restaurant on 4th St. in Louisville, where you probably shouldn't order the corned beef and cabbage.

Of course, we never celebrated Purim growing up, and were trained from an early age to loathe St. Patrick's Day as inauthentic and un-Irish in the extreme. Having spent a considerable amount of time on the aul sod I can tell you that Patty's Day, though acknowledged over there, is kind of not that big a deal. I think mainly because in Ireland a day where you see green everywhere, sing raucous songs, and drink til closing is ... well, say ... Tuesday.

But as it turns out, in spite of myself I had a very celebratory St. Purim's Day here in Louisville. We had a day off from the show so all I had to do was have a breakfast meeting about the upcoming workshop of my play at this festival, go to the gym, and attend a "meet the artists" function where no one showed up and we just stood around drinking free cocktails! Also, the SUN finally came out! So this morning found me standing on my little balcony in my PJs, waiting for my meeting to start. I gazed out over Louisville in the bright light, coffee cup in hand, soaking up the Vitamin D and basking in the delicious fragrance coming from my oven.
What did I make? Soda bread, of course. But in the spirit of the holiday itself, it is a deliciously inauthentic version that features chocolate chips!! instead of traditional raisins and a fluffy, sugar-crusted texture rather than the traditional granite rock-face-type affair. It is so easy, so fast, and so delicious I had to share it with you here. It is the PERFECT thing to make when you want to be that person who just "whipped something up" for your friend who is coming over in 15 minutes. With the exception of the buttermilk, all the ingredients are probably in your pantry anyway. It's almost harder NOT to make this bread than to make it. There is practically no labor. I got this into the oven between waking up at 920 and welcoming my friend at 1020. I've made two loaves now and it's a big hit on the 15th floor.

Here goes. From MEMORY, that's how easy it is.

The Boo's American Chocolate Chip Soda Bread
via Epicurious

Preheat oven to 300. *** I LIED IT's 375, I hope no one has tried to make this yet SORRY**

2 C flour
1 .5 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
4 tbsp sugar (i made the second loaf with 4 tsp by accident, still great)
1 tsp salt.

Mix/Whisk/Move these guys around in a bowl.

3tbsp butter, chilled and cut into pieces. Crumble in with your hands until the mixture is coarse and mealy.

Make a 'well' in the middle of the dry mixture for reasons I don't understand.
Pour 1C buttermilk into the well.

Mix that around (I like a wooden spoon) til it's a soft sticky dough.
Mix in 1/2 C chocolate chips.

With floured hands, form a ball of sticky dough. Place on sprayed baking sheet or parchment paper*. Flatten the ball somewhat with palm of hand, just let it spread out a bit.

Sprinkle with 1 tbsp sugar.

Bake for 40 min at 300 or until a knife comes out clean.

That's it.

* My new obsession, parchment paper is your answer if you find yourself, like me, short of resources and stuck with disposable pans. You can use them multiple times and there's no greasing of anything. Sooo easy and neat.

Long live breakfast. Erin Go Bragh.

The Boo