Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Strawberries and Springtime (Almost!)

When the weather hits the 80s, I don't think of beaches or suntanning, but instead ... the farmer's market! This past weekend's balmy weather flipped the switch in my mind from root vegetables and canned tomatoes to rhubarb and strawberries. I've been promising my friend Jason a rhubarb pie for the past two years, and have come up miserably short (okay, maybe the better word is lazy).

Sunday morning, I eagerly made my way to the Thompkin's Square Park farmer's market hoping to find the first sign of spring in the produce baskets. Stall after stall, however, I was reminded that although the weather is cooperating, it's still a little early for fresh spring fruit. I decided to satiate my craving with frozen strawberries instead, as a test run for Jason's eventual rhubarb and strawberry pie.

When the time comes, I'll try it again and update this recipe with fresh fruit - it should be any day now ...

Strawberry Pie

2 packages frozen strawberries, 1 pound each
200 g sugar
juice from 1/2 a lemon
1 T vanilla extract
100 g heavy cream
1 packet granulated gelatin
pate brisee pie crust (or store-bought, if you can't bear to turn on your oven in the heat)

Blind bake pie crust in a 350 degree oven until golden brown - you won't be baking the pie filling, so make sure it's fully done. Set aside to cool completely before using.

Add strawberries, sugar, and lemon juice to a large sauce pot over medium-low heat. Stir the strawberries to coat them with sugar, and then let the strawberries cook until they're just starting to fall apart (about 30 minutes).

Strain the strawberries and reserve the juice and pot you cooked them in. Add the vanilla extract to the strawberries, and set aside to cool.

Save about 1/2 cup of the strawberry juice in a bowl, and return the rest to the same pot. Keep warm over low heat to reduce.

When the reserved 1/2 cup of strawberry juice is cool, add the gelatin to bloom. Once bloomed, add the hot strawberry juice from the pot to melt the gelatin, and stir until well combined.

Whip the heavy cream to a soft peak, sacrifice a little to the strawberry juice/gelatin mix to lighten it, and then fold the strawberry juice into the whipped cream. Fold the whipped cream mixture into the cooled strawberries, and pour into the cooled pie shell. Refrigerate at least one hour, or until it sets.

*I had some extra filling, which I just poured into individual ramekins. It's delicious topped with crushed vanilla snaps.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Daring Baker's Challenge and Kaffir Lime Cheesecake

The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from JennyBakes. She has chosen Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.
This April was PattyCake's first participation in the Daring Baker's Challenge. Happily, the first recipe was cheesecake, something that we have a severe, almost debilitating love of. Our version, infused with the bright, intoxicating fragrance of Kaffir lime leaves is the perfect end to a sun-filled day. Refreshing, light and perfectly creamy.

Kaffir Lime Cheesecake with Macadamia-Graham Cracker Crust

[adapted from Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake]

For crust:
1 1/3 cup graham cracker crumbs
½ cup macademia nuts; finely chopped
2/3 stick butter; melted
1 ½ tbsp granuated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

For cheesecake:
2 sticks of cream cheese, 8 oz each at room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 1/3 cup heavy cream
12 Kaffir lime leaves
1 tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp vanilla extract
pinch of salt

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Combine heavy cream and kaffir lime leaves and bring just to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until liquid has reduced by half. Discard Kaffir leaves and set aside and allow the infused cream to cool slightly.

2. Mix together the crust ingredients and press into an 8-9 inch spring form pan. Set aside.

3. Combine cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of a stand-mixer and cream together until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, fully incorporating each before adding the next. Make sure to scrape down the bowl in between each egg. Add reduced Kaffir lime infused heavy cream, vanilla and lime juice and blend until smooth and creamy.

4. Pour batter into prepared crust and tap the pan on the counter a few times to bring all air bubbles to the surface. Place pan into a larger pan and pour boiling water into the larger pan until halfway up the side of the cheesecake pan. If cheesecake pan is not airtight, cover bottom securely with foil before adding water.

5. Bake 45 to 55 minutes, until it is almost done - this can be hard to judge, but you're looking for the cake to hold together, but still have a lot of jiggle to it in the center. You don't want it to be completely firm at this stage. Close the oven door, turn the heat off, and let rest in the cooling oven for one hour. This lets the cake finish cooking and cool down gently enough so that it won't crack on the top. After one hour, remove cheesecake from oven and lift carefully out of water bath. Let it finish cooling on the counter, and then cover and put in the fridge to chill. Once fully chilled, it is ready to serve.

Prep notes: While the actual making of this cheesecake is a minimal time commitment, it does need to bake for almost an hour, cool in the oven for an hour, and chill overnight before it is served. Plan accordingly!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Cashew Blondies with Vanilla Caramel

Caramel-cashew is one of those matches made in (food) heaven. Akin to apple-cinnamon or oatmeal-raisin, the combination of silky, sweet caramel and crunchy, salty cashews is better than the sum of its parts.

My first taste of this delectable combination was in a Culver’s. For those who grew up outside the Midwest, Culver’s is an “upscale” fast food chain known for its butterburgers, cheese curds and frozen custard. Cliché? Perhaps. Fabulous? But of course.

Mike, my step-dad and by far one of my favorite people in the world, has defaulted to this decadent combination since the day I met him. The first time we frequented Culver’s, (and, I’ll admit, every time since) I reached around my default dessert, an oversized concrete chocolate malt, and pilfered a large, creamy spoonful of his sundae.

Warm caramel flowed through the cold, creamy custard, picking up the salt crystals from the cashews and making the flavor utterly addictive. That combination has stuck with me for years and will always bring about fond memories of balmy, custard-filled summer evenings with Mike.

So here it is: a caramel-cashew sundae in bar form, heightened with aromatic vanilla and a hefty hint of salt. Miguel, these sweet, salty temptresses are all for you…the package should arrive in three to five business days.

Cashew Blondies with Vanilla Caramel

For Blondies
• 8 Tbsp butter; melted
• 1 cup brown sugar
• 1 large egg; room temperature
• 2 tsp vanilla
• ½ tsp kosher salt
• 1 cup all-purpose flour
• ½ tsp baking powder
• ¾ cup salted cashews; coarsely chopped

For Caramel
• ¾ cup vanilla sugar
• Water; just enough to make a paste with sugar
• ¼ cup heavy whipping cream
• 1 tbsp butter; melted
• ¼ tsp vanilla
• Pinch of salt

Line an 8x8-inch baking dish with parchment paper allowing it to come up the sides of the pan. Butter liberally. Preheat the oven to 350˚F.

Whip together butter and sugar till lightened in color. Whisk together the egg and vanilla and add gradually to sugar-butter mixture. Make sure the liquid is fully incorporated into the batter before moving on. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt and add all at once, mixing just to combine. Stir in chopped cashews and pour mixture into prepared pan.

Make a caramel by combining vanilla sugar with water just until the sugar is hydrated and the mixture is a paste in a thick-bottomed pan. Use a wet pastry brush to wipe down the sides of the pan and avoid forming sugar crystals. Place the pan over medium-high heat and bring mixture to a boil. Regularly brush down the sides with the pastry brush and do NOT stir. As the mixture begins to color gently swirl the pan to distribute the heat evenly. Allow the caramel to cook to a medium color and remove from heat. Carefully stir in heavy cream (the mixture will bubble up). Stir in melted butter, vanilla and salt. Allow the caramel to cool slightly.

Pour caramel over top of blondie and use a sharp knife to swirl it into the batter.

Bake at 350˚F 50 – 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cover with aluminum foil halfway through baking to avoid browning the top too much.

*If you don’t have vanilla sugar handy, simply use regular granulated sugar and add a bit more vanilla extract.
*To make your own vanilla sugar simply combine granulated sugar with leftover dried vanilla beans. Continue adding sugar and vanilla to keep a ready supply of this fragrant, versatile sugar.