German Chocolate Cookie Bar


I don’t know what it is about the combination of coconut, pecans, and chocolate, but it certainly works for me. But first, a little history. German Chocolate Cake originated in 1957, when a Dallas Texas housewife, Mrs. George Clay, had her recipe for “German’s Chocolate Cake printed in the “Recipe of the Day” in the Dallas Morning News. The recipe used the baking chocolate created by Samuel German for the Baker company in 1852. This sweet chocolate was marketed as “German’s Chocolate” but didn’t gain widespread use until Mrs. Clay’s recipe was reprinted widely, but with a loss of the apostrophe “s” leading to some to assume that German chocolate cake has a German origin. The common link today is the use of chocolate, coconut flakes, and pecans in a dessert. Which brings us to the subject of today’s post.

Let me freely admit, I am a food snob. I dislike using recipes that use shortcuts, mixes, and commercially prepared products, as I like to be sure of the content and sources of my ingredients.  This also tends me to dismiss recipes from places like Parent’s magazine and Family Fun and Reader’s Digest. But my wife saw this recipe (originally from Family Circle Magazine) mentioned in a House and Garden email, and I thought “well, maybe.” https://www.parents.com/recipe/german-chocolate-bar-cookies/

Of course, my cooking sensibilities could not allow me to make this recipe as written, so I made some changes (more work, but the results should be much better). Some of them feel free to ignore (like making your own chocolate wafer cookies, using bittersweet chocolate instead of semi-sweet) but I did not advocate making sweetened condensed milk from scratch.

German Chocolate Bar Cookies by SDR

  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print

This recipe has 2 components. The first is to make scratch chocolate wafer cookies to use as the base of the bars.  The second is to make the bars themselves.

The recipe for the chocolate wafer cookies is adapted from Alice Medrich’s “Pure Dessert” by Deb Perelman at smittenkitchen.com and is much better than the commercial alternatives.

Ingredients:

  • 1½ cups All-purpose flour (6.75 ounces)
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (dutch processed)
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar (18 tbs total)
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • 14 tablespoons unsalted butter (1¾ sticks), slightly softened
  • 3 tablespoon whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Instructions:

  1.  Combine the flour, cocoa, sugar, salt, and baking sod in the bowl of a food processor and pulse several times to mix thoroughly.  Cut the butter into small pieces and add them to the bowl.  Pulse several times.  Combine the milk and the vanilla extract, and with the food processor on, add this to the mixture and continue to mix until the dough forms a ball and clings to the side of the food processor.  Transfer to a large bowl and knead the dough to make sure it is evenly blended.
  2. Form the dough into a log about 14 inches long and 1¾ inches in diameter.  Wrap the log in wax paper, and refrigerate until firm.  Like many other cookie doughs, it is better to refrigerate for 12 to 24 hours.
  3. Put the racks of the oven in the bottom and upper thirds, and preheat to 350°F.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper.  Remove the log from the refrigerator, and cut slices 14/ to 3/8 inch thick.  (If you are trying to duplicate the commercial cookies, cut them thinner and decrease the baking time.)  Place the slices 1 inch apart on the baking sheets.  Bake, rotating the baking sheet from top to bottom and back to front about halfway through baking.  The cookies will puff up, and then deflate.  The average baking time is 12 to 15 minutes.  They are done about 1½ minutes after they deflate.  In my oven, the cookies were done in 13 minutes.  Do not under or over bake–the cookies should be crisp when they are cool.  Remove the sheets from the oven and leave the cookies for 5 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.  The cookies can be stored in an airtight container to 2 weeks or frozen for up to two months.  They can be eaten with some milk, used to make ice cream sandwiches, or as we are using them here, to be mixed with butter and become the base of a bar cookie or a cheesecake.

Chocolate wafer cookies

Now, onto the making to the bars themselves:

Ingredients:

  • 13 ½ ounces of chocolate wafers, ground up in a food processor
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
  • 12 ounces chocolate
  • 1¼ cups sweetened coconut flakes
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped pecans

Directions:

  1. Heat oven to 350° F.  Butter a 13X9 inch baking pan, and line with a sling of parchment paper (also buttered).Buttered pan lined with parchment paper
  2. Grind the wafer cookies in a food processor until they are fine crumbs.  Transfer to a bowl and melt the ½ cup of butter, and mix thoroughly. Press the mixture into the baking pan, using a spatula and a flat surfaced measuring cup to evenly spread the crumb mixture.
  3. Combine the coconut flakes, pecans and chocolate pieces in a bowl.  Pour the condensed milk into the bowl and mix thoroughly with a spatula. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan.
  4. Bake for 25 minutes.  Cool completely and then refrigerate for at least 2 hours.  Using the parchment paper sling, lift the bars and place on a cutting board.  Cut into 36 pieces.

Notes:

I used a 70% cocao bittersweet chocolate from Scharffenberger because you need to balance the sweetness of the condensed milk and coconut flakes.  Semi-sweet morsels would not work as well.  I chopped the mini-blocks of Scharffenberger with a knife. Since you want everything to mix together well, that is why I elected to mix the coconut flakes, pecans and chocolate together first, and then added the condensed milk to bind everything together (rather than a layer of condensed milk, topped with chocolate first, coconut second, and finally pecans).  This is a very intense bar and a small serving is enough.

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The monster of a cookie–attempts to recreate the Levain cookie


The Levain bakery in New York City is famous for its 6 ounce chocolate chip cookie, and this has spawned a number of imitators and copycat recipes. I found 3 recipes that are similar in ingredients but vary in amounts and techniques.


These cookies are humongous and are meant to be shared.  The edges are crisp, and the centers are soft and chewy.  The nuts are an integral part of the cookie, and cannot be omitted, so nix for those with nut allergies.

In April, 2019, Stella Parks published a Levain style cookie https://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2019/04/super-thick-chocolate-chip-cookie-recipe.html and in November, 2019, Delish contributors June Xie and Makinze Gore put their version on the Net https://www.delish.com/cooking/recipe-ideas/recipes/a46396/copycat-levain-bakery-cookies/.  Also, in November of 2019, the team at Cupcake Jemma came up with their attempt to recreate the monster cookie.  These versions are not alike, and differ in technique, so as a public service, here are the 3 recipes in one place, and hopefully this will inspire everyone to try and experiment with them all and determine their preference.  Please let me know what you think!

Here is Stella’s recipe:

Super Thick Chocolate Chip Cookie

Ingredients

  • 4 ounces unsalted American butter (about 1/2 cup; 113 g), softened to about 65°F (18°C)
  • 4 ounces light brown sugar (about 1/2 cup, firmly packed; 113 g)
  • 3 1/2 ounces white sugar, preferably well toasted (about 1/2 cup; 100 g)
  • 1/2 ounce vanilla extract (about 1 tablespoon; 15 g)
  • 2 teaspoons (8 g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt, use about half as much by volume or the same weight (plus more for sprinkling, if desired)
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • Pinch of grated nutmeg
  • 2 large eggs (about 3 1/2 ounces; 100 g), straight from the fridge
  • 10 ounces all-purpose flour (about 2 1/4 cups, spooned; 283 g), such as Gold Medal
  • 15 ounces assorted chocolate chips (about 2 1/2 cups; 425 g), not chopped chocolate; see note
  • 8 1/2 ounces raw walnut pieces or lightly toasted pecan pieces (shy 1 3/4 cups; 240 g)

Toasting white sugar will give a more caramel tasting note to the cookie, and is worth the trouble.  Here’s how to do it:

Use a 4 pound bag of granulated sugar.  Adjust oven rack to center position and preheat oven to 300°F. Pour sugar into a 9- by 13-inch glass or ceramic baking dish. Toast until the sugar turns ivory, about 1 hour. Stir thoroughly and continue roasting, pausing to stir every 30 minutes. The sugar will produce steam as a byproduct of toasting, so it must be stirred well to allow that moisture to escape. Stirring should also help move hot sugar from the edges toward the center, and cool sugar from the center toward the edges, for even toasting. Continue toasting and stirring every 30 minutes until the sugar has darkened to the desired degree, from a light beige to the color of traditional brown sugar, between 2 and 4 hours more.

Smaller amounts of sugar can be done, but watch the sugar and toss more frequently.

The Delish copycat recipe for monster cookies

  1.  Weigh 100 grams of walnut pieces.  Raw walnuts have a skin that can be a little bitter, so bake the walnut pieces for 5 minutes at 350° F (convention) on a tray, then place the pieces wrapped up in a clean kitchen towel and rub the pieces to remove the skins.  Set aside.
  2. The 400 grams of chocolate can be any type you wish–milk, semi-sweet, bittersweet, chips or chunks, or a mixture.  The Jemma team used all milk chocolate chips.
  3. 230 grams of butter (8.09 ounces) must be cold.  Put in the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle, and beat for 30 seconds, just to break it up a little.  Then add the 2 sugars (160 grams=5.6 ounces of caster (superfine) sugar (regular cane sugar can be used), plus 160 grams of light (not dark) brown sugar).  Mix for 30-45 seconds.
  4. Add the chocolate and the walnut pieces and mix just to combine everything (about 15 seconds).  Next add the dry ingredients.  Note–if you don’t have self rising flour, take 1 cup of all purpose flour and mix with 1½ teaspoons of baking powder and ¼ teaspoon salt.  This recipe uses 200 grams self rising flour, so to make your own self rising flour, just combine 2 tsp of baking powder for each cup of all purpose flour.  For the King Arthur flour that I use, one cup=150 grams, so 1 1/3 cups=200 grams plus 2 tsp+½+1/8 tsp (just under 2¾) of baking powder. Combine on low speed for 30 seconds.
  5. Whisk 2 eggs together.  Pour into the mixture and combine to mix throughout the dough.
  6. Weigh dough balls to 125 grams.  Press gently into a ball (do not roll them tightly) onto a parchment lined baking sheet and freeze for 90 minutes.  Preheat the oven to 180°C fan (355°F convention) with a baking sheet lined with parchment paper in the oven.  Bake 6 cookies at a time with good space between, as the cookies will spread.  Bake for 17 minutes for a gooey center and crisp outside.  Cool for a least 5 minutes before eating.

I have not made any of these recipes yet, but as soon as I do, I’ll come back and finish this post with my results. Please let me know if you try either (or someone else’s copycat of the Levain cookie). Most important, are these monsters cookies better than the tried and true chocolate chip cookie benchmark, The NY Times modified winner from my prior posting?

Update 12/30/2020:  I made the Cupcake Jemma recipe.  It is very interesting as the use of cold butter and short beating times creates a very untypical cookie dough that only comes together as you mold the mixture in your hands to make a mildly compressed ball.  The freezing of the balls of dough before baking probably prevents them from flattening and spreading as they bake, so I will try to flatten the ball of dough before baking next time.

3 Different bittersweet chocolates

The cookie itself, eaten after 15 minutes out of the oven, has crisp outsides and crumbly insides that (due to the amount of chocolate) is very gooey.  

The cupcake jemma cookie 125 grams (4.41 ounces)

The combination of dough, walnuts and multiple chocolates tastes great, and I can see why this monster cookie has such a reputation.  I’ll update again after trying the other two recipes.

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A Different Kind of Brisket, complete with a story behind it, just in time for the Holidays


This is a revisit to the post I made on September 21, 2017. I made some slight changes in our version of the Ferst Brisket, and I included the back story in this post.

The Ferst Family Brisket history was originally published in The Forward.  Here is the story:

The Brisket That Traveled from Europe to Philadelphia and Back to Stockholm

Shared by Walter Ferst

Recipe Origins: Germany > Stockholm; Riga, Latvia > Philadelphia

In the late 19th century and just before World War II, when Jews in Eastern Europe started to scatter, recipes were carried with relatives to different corners of the globe. That was the case with Walter Ferst’s family brisket, a simple preparation plugged with garlic and laced with onions that his grandmother made for holidays in Philadelphia.

Unbeknownst to him as a child, the recipe also remained in Europe. While much of the family came to the United States around the turn of the century, a set of cousins stayed in Germany until the mid- to late-1930’s. “They were out for a Sunday picnic when they were accosted by Brown Shirts who roughed them up and turned their car over,” he recalls. “The family righted the car and drove north until they got to Sweden. They never went home, they just drove.”

Living in Israel for a summer in his early 20’s, Walter used a family directory to reach out to a distant cousin Mary Bagg in Stockholm to say he would be in town and would like to meet. “In [the 1970’s], the way you got mail when you traveled in Europe was through American Express,” he says. “Anyone could mail you a letter to their office and they would hold it. When we arrived, they had a letter for me.” Mary insisted that he stay with her and introduced him to another cousin Jorge.

After a day of sailing around Stockholm, drinking Slivovitz to stay warm, Jorge brought them to his mother’s home for dinner. When Walter walked into the house, he recognized the scent coming from the kitchen: his grandmother’s brisket with paprika, onions, and white wine. His grandmother had died eight years earlier. “You have to picture being a 21-year-old kid living out of his backpack and he sits down to this meal and it’s the same one his grandmother made for him as a kid. I can remember it vividly.”

The brisket recipe is still the one that graces the Ferst family table on cold nights, particularly on Hanukkah, but it suits the Rosh Hashanah table as well.

*A version of this recipe first appeared in The Forward, then in the Jewish Food Society, and reprinted in Hadassah magazine.

Kauffman/Ferst Family Braised Brisket

 

The finished brisket The Finished brisket

Serves 12 to 15

Time:  At least 4 hours cooking

Ingredients

  • 7 to 8 pound whole brisket, flat and deckle attached
  • 14 or more garlic cloves
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1½ teaspoons Hungarian paprika
  • 1 teaspoon fresly ground black pepper
  • 4 medium (2½ pounds) sweet onions, cut crosswise into thick slices
  • 3 cups dry white wine
  • 1½ cups water

Equipment needed:  large roasting pan or Dutch oven, wooden toothpicks.

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.  Rinse the brisket and trim any excessive hanging pieces of fat, but leave the rest of the fat intact for cooking.  Make 14 or more ½ inch incisions through the fat into the meat and insert garlic cloves in the slits.
  2. Season both sides of the meat with salt, paprika and pepper, then place in the center of the cooking vessel, fat side up.  Pin whole slices of onion to the meat with toothpicks to completely cover the meat, scattering the remaining slices around the bisket.
  3. Mix the water and wine together and pour over the brisket.  Cover the pan tightly with foil or the cover of the Dutch oven.
  4. Cook until the meat is tender when pierced with a fork, about 3 to 3½ hours, then uncover and cook for an additional 45 minutes, basting with the pan juices every 10 minutes.
  5. Remove from the pan and let rest for 20 minutes.  Remove the onions and toothpicks.  Carve and serve with the pan juices.

Now here are our modifications.  Start the cooking at 375º F for 15 minutes per side, then reduce the heat to 350° F and follow the rest of the directions.  After cooking is finished, reserve the juices and the onions and allow the fat to separate.  Remove about 1/4 of the onions to add to the finished gravy, and pureé the liquid and the rest of onions together in a blender or food processor (blender is better to achieve a nice homogeneous sauce).  When the meat is cooled, slice it against the grain in ¼ inch thick slices, and put it in a storage container.  Cover with the gravy and refrigerate overnight.  Warm gently the next day, and serve with the gravy/reserved onions.

Now I know many of you are fans of a sweet brisket (including my wife).  This is a very nice version of a more savory brisket, and the garlic, paprika and onions make it a standout, particularly the treatment of the reserved juices and onions to make a pureéd sauce.  The sauce perfectly accompanies the well cooked and tasty brisket.  We also think the brisket tastes better and is more tender when sliced cool, and reheated the next day in the gravy.

L’shana Tovah.

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Chocolate Truffle Turtle Cake, a mashup of a brownie and pecan turtles


Hi chocolate fans!  This is a recipe from an article in Gourmet magazine from October, 1992, written by Zaan Early Zakroff entitled Forbidden Pleasures.  This dessert is not really a cake, but it is not a candy either.  It is taking the chocolate coated pecan caramel cluster (aka Pixie or Turtle), and mounting it on a brownie like base.  I was somewhat surprised that I could not see this recipe on the Gourmet archives at Epicurious.com, and I am happy to publish it so that it does not get lost forever.  I did find some individuals who have posted this recipe on the net.  My post is from the original article, with some helpful suggestions.

Chocolate Truffle Turtle Cake

Cake base

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ¼ cup tightly packed light brown sugar
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  •  2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped pecans
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract

Caramel

  • ¾ cup tightly packed light brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon fresh lemon juice

5 ounces pecan halves

Ganache

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 12 ounces bittersweet chocolate chopped fine

Optional Rum-burnt sugar sauce

  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • ½ cup hot water
  • 1/3 cup dark rum

Procedure

    • Make the base: Line the bottom of a buttered 8 1/2 inch springform pan, or tart pan with a removable fluted rim, with a round of wax paper and butter the paper. In a small heavy saucepan, melt the butter over moderate heat and add the cocoa powder while stirring, until smooth. Remove the pan from the heat, stir in brown sugar until smooth, and then let mixture cool. Beat in the egg, then stir in flour, pecans, salt and vanilla extract. Spread the batter in the prepared pan, bake the base in the middle of a preheated 350 degree oven for 8 to 10 minutes (until it is just firm to the touch, and pulls away slightly from the side).  SDR–this may require more than 10 minutes depending on your oven, it is done when the center is set but still a little underdone.

      Brown sugar and butter

      Mix the cake base

      Ready to pour into the pan

      Let the base cool in the pan on a rack for 5 minutes, then remove the sides of the pan and invert the base onto cooling rack, discarding wax paper. While still warm, fit it into 8 inch springform pan (will slope up the sides slightly).

    • Make the caramel: In a small heavy saucepan combine the brown sugar, the corn syrup, the butter and the salt, cooking the mixture over moderate heat stirring and washing down any sugar crystals clinging to the side of the pan with a brush dipped in cold water, until the sugar is dissolved.

      Boiling the caramel

      Boil it undisturbed for 8 to 10 minutes, or until candy thermometer registers 260 degrees F. (Be careful not to extend the caramel heat as this will create a hard caramel, which in the finished cake will be hard to cut and eat.)  Remove the pan from the heat and add cream, vanilla extract, and lemon juice, stirring to incorporate. Let cool to room temperature (it will thicken).  SDR–if the caramel cools too much, it will not pour.  Do not wait until the caramel cools to room temperature. Arrange pecan halves end to end onto the cake base in concentric circles to cover the base completely. Pour cooled caramel in the center of the pecan layer, and allow gravity to spread it.

      Pecan halves added, ready to pour the caramel

    • Make the ganache: In a small saucepan, bring the cream just to a boil, and remove the pan from heat. Whisk in the chocolate and the salt until the chocolate is completely melted. Cool to room temperature, then beat the ganache with an electric mixer until it just holds soft peaks (don’t overbeat, as it will become granular). Spread the ganache evenly over the caramel layer, and chill for at least 2 hours or overnight. (The cake can keeps for 1 week chilled and wrapped in foil). Run a thin knife around teh edge of the cake, remove the side of the pan, and transfer carefully to a plate. Let cake stand at room temperature for 30 minutes prior to cutting, so that the ganache is a little soft.
    • Optional Sauce: In a dry large deep heavy skillet, cook the sugar over moderately high heat, stirring constantly with a fork until melted completely and a deep golden caramel. Remove the skillet from the heat, into the side of it pour the water carefully, a little at a time, and cook the mixture over moderate heat, stirring, until the caramel is dissolved. Add the rum and simmer the sauce for 2 minutes. Pour the sauce into heat-proof dish and cool, then serve on side of cake.
  • Servings: 12
  • Preparation Time: 2 hours
  • Recipe Type Cakes, Chocolate, Desserts, Gourmet Magazine
  • Source Author: Zaan Early Zakroff (Forbidden Pleasures, Gourment Oct 92)

Since this is a very sugary dessert, a small portion is ample.  Enjoy!

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The French Laundry’s Butter Poached Lobster Mac and Cheese


Our daughter gave my wife a birthday present of one year’s access to Masterclass, the internet site for world class experts to talk about their fields.  Thomas Keller, the famous chef owner of the French Laundry in Yountville, California, as well as the ridiculously expensive Per Se in New York City, and sous vide innovator, has a series of classes on the site, and one of them shows how to make his famous lobster dish.  Part of the reasoning behind this dish is the ability to present freshly cooked lobster “a la minute” in his restaurant, so for a home cook, this is a technique not as necessary when compared to steaming a lobster and serving it immediately with drawn butter (Yum).  None the less, it is an exercise in fine cuisine that with a fair amount of effort, can be done at home.  The least intuitive issue is the cooking of the lobster itself, but by cooking the lobster initially to 10% done, and poaching the meat later in a butter emulsion, this removes any issue of poorly cooked crustacean.  For a restaurant, this is of primary importance (with the secondary issue of plating convenience), but for the home cook, it prevents a litany of possible errors.  Yes, this is a lot of work, but the results are spectacular.

You start by boiling water with some white vinegar, and then, using a pan or plastic container big enough to hold 2 lobsters, cover the lobsters with the boiling water for several minutes.  After 90 seconds, remove the lobster from the water and twist off the tail, twist off the claws at the body and toss the claw arms back in the water for 2 more minutes.  Have a dish with ice prepared, and remove the tail meat, cut it lengthwise and remove the digestive vein, and place the 2 pieces on the ice.  Next, remove the claw arms and crack the claw to remove the claw meat, removing any cartilage from the large claw piece, and using scissors and crackers, remove all the meat from the knuckles.  Place all this meat on the ice.  Finally, try to remove the little bit of meat from the 8 legs by rolling it out after tearing the distal end of the leg off.  You end up with 2 pieces of tail, 2 claws, 2 knuckle portions and a bunch of little bits of leg meat per lobster sitting on ice.  This meat is still raw but will keep well on the ice for use later.  What is left is the lobster body with its liver (known as tomalley) which is green, and if the lobster was female, there may be black eggs (roe) which will turn red when cooked.  (Both the tomalley and the roe can be cooked and eaten if desired.)  Grab the back end of the lobster thorax and pull up to separate the exoskeleton with the head from the rest of the thorax body (minus the legs)  This body is then cut up by a longitudinal cut, and then the halves are cut into small pieces (about 4 per half).  These body parts are used to create the lobster stock.  I suppose that one could throw in the tail, claw, body skeleton and knuckle pieces as well (like one would do for lobster americaine), but Chef Keller did not.

Butter Poach Lobster Mac and Cheese

Recipe type: Pasta
Serves: 6
Ingredients
  • Lobster:
  • 3 lobsters (1 1/2 to 2 pounds each)
  • distilled vinegar; as needed
  • water
  • Lobster Broth:
  • 1/4 Cup oil
  • 3 lobster bodies (3/4 pounds total); cut in quarters
  • 1 1/2 Cups chopped tomatoes
  • 1/2 Cup chopped carrots
  • 1 bunch tarragon
  • 2 Cups whipping cream
  • water
  • Coral Oil:
  • 3 Tablespoons lobster coral (roe); reserved from shell
  • 1/2 Cup oil; heated
  • Assembly:
  • 1/2 Cup orzo
  • 2 Tablespoons mascarpone
  • coarse salt; to taste
  • 1 1/2 Cups butter
  • 3 Tablespoons water
  • 1 Tablespoon minced chives
  • 6 Parmesan Crisps; see * Note
Instructions
  1. * Note: See the “Parmigiano-Reggiano Crisps with Goat Cheese Mousse” recipe.
  2. Lobster: Place lobsters in tight-fitting heat-proof container such as stockpot. To determine how much steeping water you will need, add cold water just to cover, then drain it off, measure it and place in large pot.
  3. Bring water to boil and add 1/2 Cup white distilled vinegar for every 8 quarts of water. Pour boiling liquid over lobsters and steep 2 minutes if using 1 1/2-pound lobsters, 3 minutes for 2-pound lobsters. Remove lobsters from hot water, but do not discard water.
  4. One at a time, using towel or rubber gloves to hold hot lobster, grasp tail and twist and pull to detach from body. Twist and pull off claws and return them to hot water for 5 more minutes. Reserve bodies.
  5. Hold tail flat and twist tail fan to one side. Pull off and discard. Gently use your fingers to push through tail end pulling meat out through large opening at other end. Save shell for broth.
  6. Lay tail meat on back and cut lengthwise in half through middle. Remove vein running through top of meat. Lay meat on paper towel-lined plate or platter, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Repeat with each tail.
  7. After 5 minutes, remove claws from hot water. Twist off each knuckle to remove from claw. Hold claw in your hand and pull down to loosen lower pincer. Push to either side to crack and pull it straight off. Ideally, cartilage from inside claw should be attached to pincer and claw meat should remain intact. You may not always succeed in keeping claw meat in 1 piece, but with practice, your success rate will increase. If claw breaks apart, just arrange pieces nicely.
  8. Still holding claw, crack top of shell with heel of knife about 3/4 inch from joint where knuckle was attached. You want to go through shell but not damage meat. Wiggle your knife to loosen and crack shell. If shell does not pop off, turn claw over and repeat procedure. Shake claw to remove meat (if it doesn’t fall out, cut off very tip of shell and blow through hole to release meat).
  9. Cut off top joint of each knuckle, the one that was attached to lobster body. Use scissors to cut away shell along smooth outside edge of knuckle. Use your fingers to pry open shell and remove meat. Add knuckle and claw meat to the tail meat. Reserve shell for broth.
  10. Pull back and discard top shell of each lobster, including heads and antennae, and reserve for broth. Remove dark green coral (tomalley and roe).
  11. Lobster Broth: Heat oil in large, deep, straight-sided braising pan. Add lobster shells and sear over medium-high heat 1 to 2 minutes per side, until they turn red. (If your pot is not big enough to accomplish this easily, do it in 2 batches.) Add tomatoes, carrots and tarragon, cover shells and vegetables with water, and bring to boil. Skim off any impurities that rise to top. Reduce heat and simmer over low heat 1 hour.
  12. Strain stock through large fine strainer, smashing lobster bodies with wooden spoon to extract all liquid, and then strain again through fine strainer into clean saucepan. Return strained stock to stove and simmer until reduced to 1 Cup, about 2 hours.
  13. Add heavy cream, return to simmer and cook, skimming occasionally, until broth is reduced to 2 Cups, about 30 to 40 minutes. Strain through fine strainer into container, discarding any solids remaining in strainer. Cover and refrigerate broth several hours to chill, or up to 3 days. (Makes 2 Cups; 6 to 8 servings of broth)
  14. Coral Oil: Place lobster coral in blender and blend until smooth, 20 to 30 seconds. with machine running on low speed, drizzle in hot oil. Increase to high speed and continue to blend about 15 to 20 minutes, stopping to scrape down sides occasionally. Oil will continue to heat in blender from friction and will take on red-orange color (coral will remain dark).
  15. The longer machine is run, the darker the color will be, but be careful not to damage blender by overheating it. Strain oil by pouring through cheesecloth-lined fine-mesh strainer into container. Cover oil and store in refrigerator. (Makes 1/4 to 1/3 Cup)
  16. Assembly: Bring lobster broth to simmer over medium heat in saucepan and reduce to sauce consistency, about 1 Cup, about 30 to 40 minutes. Set aside in pan.
  17. Cook orzo in boiling lightly-salted water 8 to 10 minutes. Drain cooked pasta in strainer and rinse under cold water. Shake strainer to remove excess water and add pasta to lobster broth.
  18. If lobster pieces have been refrigerated, bring to room temperature. Heat orzo and lobster broth to simmer. Add mascarpone and season with salt to taste. Let simmer 1 minute, then remove pan from heat and keep warm. Mixture should be thickness of risotto.
  19. Heat butter and water over medium-low heat until butter is melted and mixture is very warm, then whisk together to combine. Add lobster pieces; lobster should be almost covered. Heat gently to warm lobster. Stir chives into orzo.
  20. Pipe circle of coral oil in center of each serving dish. Place about 1/3 cup orzo in center of oil, allowing it to spread oil out into larger circle. Arrange piece of lobster tail and claw in center of orzo and top each serving with Parmesan Crisp.

This recipe yields 6 servings.

Each serving: 902 calories; 696 mg sodium; 292 mg cholesterol; 84 grams fat; 14 grams carbohydrates; 28 grams protein; 0.68 gram fiber.

Description: “Butter-Poached Maine Lobster with Creamy Lobster Broth and Mascarpone-Enriched Orzo”

NOTES: Recipe from “The French Laundry Cookbook” (Artisan) by Thomas Keller, chef and owner of The French Laundry, 6640 Washington St, Yountville, CA

Now for some more of my comments

The reason for the vinegar added to the water in the boil of the lobster is the acid of the vinegar acts as an agent to help the hot water to set the albumin in the lobster and pull the meat away from the shell.

The butter emulsion allows you to gently poach the reserved and iced lobster meat to the correct degree of doneness without overcooking it. To create the emulsion, start with the 3 tbs of water and heat it with mild heat. Using a whisk, add the ice cold butter in small pieces, creating an emulsion similar to that of a beurre blanc. In fact, this emulsion is also known as beurre monté. It is vital to keep whisking as the butter is added to maintain the emulsion. The recipe calls for 3 sticks of unsalted butter, but if you are not making 3 or 4 lobsters at once and only using 1 lobster, you get enough butter emulsion to poach the meat of one lobster with just 1 stick of butter. If the emulsion gets too hot and starts to simmer, add more water to the emulsion to prevent it from breaking. Add kosher salt to the emulsion to taste, as this is what flavors the lobster meat while it is poaching.  I add some freshly ground black pepper to the emulsion as well.  Be careful that the temperature of the beurre monté never gets hot enough to a simmer stage. Put the lobster meat in the beurre monté and stir frequently until done, about 15 to 20 minutes. The lobster is done when it is just opaque in the center, and feels just firm.  Be careful not to overcook the lobster meat as it can get tough, but using the butter emulsion poaching gives a wider margin of safety to minimize the possibility of cooking too long.

The orzo should be cooked only 1/3 to 1/2 of the way, and it finishes cooking the creamy lobster broth, so that it absorbs the flavor of the broth into the pasta. As the broth heats up the orzo to finish cooking the pasta, it will thicken to the consistency of a creamy risotto. Add the chives to finish the orzo preparation.

To serve, put a layer of the orzo in the center of the plate. Place the lobster meat on the top of the orzo. Keller then tops this with a Parmesan tuile.  These are created by melting 3 tbs of Parmesan on a silpat for 3 minutes in a 400ºF oven, then cooled (they will harden).

Posted in Cooking, elegant entreé, food/restaurants/recipes, Recipe, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

My Thoughts on making the Sullivan Street Bakery No-Knead Bread


Every since Mark Bittman wrote an article on Jim Lahey and the Sullivan Street Bakery No-Knead Bread in 2006, it has been a phenomenon.  And no wonder, it is an amazingly simple way to produce an artisan loaf of crusty white bread with a great crumb.  The main investment one has to make is time.

My take on the original recipe has reflected the changes Mark Bittman has subsequently published with changes in ingredient amounts, but the technique is unchanged.

Sullivan Street Bakery No Knead Bread

Yield One 1 1/2 pound load

Time 21 hours (active time about 5 minutes)  The long resting time gives the limited amount of yeast time for slow fermentation to create a great tasting loaf.

Ingredients:

  • 3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt
  • 1 5/8 cups cool (not cold) water
  • cornmeal for dusting

Procedure

    1. Combine the flour, yeast and salt in a large mixing bowl.  Stir to mix the dry ingredients.  Add the water and use a whisk or your hands to combine.  The result is a rather shaggy dough that is barely combined.  Cover with plastic wrap and let sit on the counter for 18 hours.
    2. The dough will be double in size.  Put some flour on a work surface, and turn the dough onto the surface.  Put a little flour on your hands and grab the dough at the 12:00 position, and fold to the center.  Do the same thing with 6:00, then 3:00 and 9:00.
    3. Cover the dough with the plastic wrap, and let the dough set for 15 minutes.
    4. Take a piece of parchment paper and dust the center with some yellow cornmeal. Or, use a cotton towel, generously coated with flour.  Turn the dough out onto the parchment paper or towel fold side down.  Dust the top with a little flour (or bran or cornmeal).  Cover with another cotton towel or plastic wrap and let it rise for 2 hours.  The dough will double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.
    5. Meanwhile, place a large Dutch oven with its cover in the oven, and heat to 450ºF.  Place the parchment paper with dough after the 120 minute rest (one can invert the dough so that the seam side is now up) into the Dutch oven, put the cover on the Dutch oven and cook for 30 minutes. Remove the cover and cook for another 15 minutes.  Remove the loaf from the oven and place on a cooling rack.  The internal temperature of the loaf should be 200 to 205ºF.

This will produce a lovely boule.  A few caveats however.  If, like me, your Dutch oven is a Le Creuset, it probably has a black plastic knob on the cover.  This is not safe for the 450º hot oven (if it is the metal knob, you are fine).  Use another cover.  You don’t have to make a slash on the top of the loaf prior to baking.

I prefer to weigh out ingredients when baking.  According to King Arthur, 1 cup of the all-purpose flour weighs 120 grams, so 3 1/3 cups would be 400 grams.  Using 430 grams of flour equals about 3 2/3 cups of flour.  However, my Oxo scale records 1 cup of King Arthur flour at 135 grams, and 3 1/3 cups came to 450 grams.  So I use 45o grams of all-purpose King Arthur flour.  The water weighs 345 grams, the yeast 1 gram and as I have instructed above, I used 1 1/2 teaspoons of Diamond Crystal kosher salt.

I also like to make a long loaf instead of a boule, and after the 1st 18 hour rise, I shape the dough on parchment paper after the folding into a longer loaf and put it in the oblong “brotform” rattan proofing basket for the 2 hour raise after the 15 minute rest.  Then I lift the dough out in the parchment paper and transfer it to my preheated oblong clay cloche with cover, and cook it covered for the same 30 minutes covered and 15 minutes uncovered.

These amounts reflect the changes Mark Bittman wrote about.  He also had some addition comments that I’ve appended here:

LAST month I wrote about Jim Lahey, the owner of Sullivan Street Bakery on West 47th Street in Manhattan, and his clever way to produce a European-style boule at home. Mr. Lahey’s recipe calls for very little yeast, a wet dough, long rising times and baking in a closed, preheated pot. My results with Mr. Lahey’s method have been beyond satisfying.

YEAST:   Instant yeast, called for in the recipe, is also called rapid-rise yeast. But you can use whatever yeast you like. Active dry yeast can be used without proofing (soaking it to make sure it’s active).

TIMING:   About 18 hours is the preferred initial rising time. Some readers have cut this to as little as eight hours and reported little difference. I have not had much luck with shorter times, but I have gone nearly 24 hours without a problem. Room temperature will affect the rising time, and so will the temperature of the water you add (I start with tepid). Like many other people, I’m eager to see what effect warmer weather will have. But to those who have moved the rising dough around the room trying to find the 70-degree sweet spot: please stop. Any normal room temperature is fine. Just wait until you see bubbles and well-developed gluten, the long strands that cling to the sides of the bowl when you tilt it, before proceeding.

THE SECOND RISE:   Mr. Lahey originally suggested one to two hours, but two to three is more like it, in my experience. (Ambient temperatures in the summer will probably knock this time down some.) Some readers almost entirely skipped this rise, shaping the dough after the first rise and letting it rest while the pot and oven preheat; this is worth trying, of course.

OTHER FLOURS:   Up to 30 percent whole-grain flour works consistently and well, and 50 percent whole-wheat is also excellent. At least one reader used 100 percent whole-wheat and reported “great crust but somewhat inferior crumb,” which sounds promising. I’ve kept rye, which is delicious but notoriously impossible to get to rise, to about 20 percent. There is room to experiment.

FLAVORINGS:   The best time to add caraway seeds, chopped olives, onions, cheese, walnuts, raisins or whatever other traditional bread flavorings you like is after you’ve mixed the dough. But it’s not the only time; you can fold in ingredients before the second rising.

OTHER SHAPES:   Baguettes in fish steamers, rolls in muffin tins or classic loaves in loaf pans: if you can imagine it, and stay roughly within the pattern, it will work.

COVERING BETWEEN RISES:   A Silpat mat under the dough is a clever idea (not mine). Plastic wrap can be used as a top layer in place of a second towel.

THE POT:   The size matters, but not much. I have settled on a smaller pot than Mr. Lahey has, about three or four quarts. This produces a higher loaf, which many people prefer again, me included.  I’m using cast iron. Readers have reported success with just about every available material. Note that the lid handles on Le Creuset pots can only withstand temperatures up to 400 degrees. So avoid using them, or remove the handle first.

BAKING:   You can increase the initial temperature to 500 degrees for more rapid browning, but be careful; I scorched a loaf containing whole-wheat flour by doing this. Yes, you can reduce the length of time the pot is covered to 20 minutes from 30, and then increase the time the loaf bakes uncovered. Most people have had a good experience baking for an additional 30 minutes once the pot is uncovered.

As these answers demonstrate, almost everything about Mr. Lahey’s bread is flexible, within limits. As we experiment, we will have failures. (Like the time I stopped adding flour because the phone rang, and didn’t realize it until 18 hours later. Even this, however, was reparable). This method is going to have people experimenting, and largely succeeding, until something better comes along. It may be quite a while.

That concludes Mark’s comments.  I concur, this is an easy bread to expand on and experiment with, and you will be delighted with the results.  As Jacques Pepin would say:  “happy cooking.”

Posted in Baking, Bread, food/restaurants/recipes, Recipe | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Key Lime Conundrum


Let me start by saying that Key Lime Pie is among my all-time favorite desserts.  So, naturally, I’ve done a fair bit of research to try to find the best for this marvelous concoction.  More about that later.  First, let’s discuss the difference between Key Lime (Citrus aurantiifolia) and Persian Lime (Citrus latifolia).

Persian limes are the ones commonly sold in the US, grown here and in Mexico, with a balanced flavor and acidity.  Key limes are originally native to Southeast Asia, passing through the Middle East to North Africa, Sicily, and Andalucia, and via Spanish explorers, to the West Indies and Florida.  Groves of Key Limes used to be in California, Texas, and mainland Florida, but the groves in the Florida Keys took over much of the market in the early 20th century due to the fact that the region’s alkaline soil and abundant coastal rains produced a 2 inch diameter, yellow lemon-like sized fruit that were fat and juicy, with a yellowish thin rind and well-balanced acidity.  Unfortunately, a hurricane wiped out many of the groves in 1926, and farmers replaced them with the larger, seedless Persian limes.

What is currently being sold here as Key Limes are grown in Mexico, and the soil there produces a very small, green, seeded, dry and bitter fruit.

Not at all like the fully ripe yellow/green rind and floral juice that made the Key Limes so prized.  For a more detailed discussion, here is a link to Stella Park at Serious Eats:  https://www.seriouseats.com/2016/05/are-key-limes-worth-the-price.html

I’ve gone the route of buying Key Limes (from Mexico) and being both disappointed and ripped off.  I’ve also tried Nettie and Joe’s Key Lime Juice made from concentrate, and that disappoints as well (I also cannot tell you the source of that brand’s Key Lime but I wouldn’t be surprised if their limes were from Mexico).  The one thing that is settled is unless you have a source for true Key Limes grown to their full potential, use Persian limes in any of the recipes for “Key Lime” pies or bars.

My research into Key Lime Pie has had some interesting results.  One of the most prized recipes is for Ruth Butter’s Key Lime pie, and there is an interesting story there.

Mrs. Butters’ Secret Key Lime Pie Recipe

By Larry Winebrenner  |   Submitted On August 15, 2005

 

“Frozen Key Lime Pie recipe?” Fern Butters asked. “Child, I’ll take that secret with me to the grave.”

Fern Butters’ frozen key lime pie was legend. Every time President Harry S Truman went through Islamorada on Upper Matecumbe Key on his way to the “Little White House” in Key West, he stopped. More specifically, he
stopped at Fern Inn for some of Fern Butters’ frozen key lime pie.

And so did other folks, commoners and dignitaries alike-Papa Hemingway, Cordell Hull, Douglas Fairbanks, Julia Child . And me.

I didn’t see any of those famous folks. Except Julia Child. And I didn’t know who she was. Ignorance of youth.

But I did eat Mrs. Butters’ frozen key lime pie.

I wasn’t a child when I asked her about the recipe. I had recipes for my grandmother’s compressed fruit cake. And my grandfather’s elderberry wine. And a passel of others I’d collected from near and far. So I thought her recipe would fit right in with my collection.

Not so. I was a young pastor at her little church in Matecumbe. But I could have been Gabriel himself.

And could never obtain that closely guarded secret.

Many had tried to replicate her recipe, but without success. I saw Julia Child once try to wheedle the recipe from Fern Butters with no success. I heard she tied to duplicate the recipe-again, no success.

Of course, that may just be a legend. It’s believable. Everyone who ever ate her frozen key lime pie coveted the recipe.

Well, Fern is now dead. The Fern Inn has changed names. Fern took the recipe to the grave with her.

But, recently her daughter called me up. She said that after all these years she was going through her mother’s letters and things and trying to clean out an old dresser drawer packed with old letters and notes.

She came across an envelope with my name on it. She wanted to know if I were the same preacher that served the little church down in Matecumbe.

This was a strange event. I had moved to Wisconsin serving churches there for several years. When I returned to South Florida, I was a professor in a college for 33 years. I retired from the college and served a church in North Miami Beach for 13 years. I retired again. Then answered a desperation call to serve as chaplain at a retirement community. I just happened to be in the area where Fern Butters’ daughter could contact me.

She sent me the envelope, now yellow with age. Fern had been dead for some 40 or so years. I opened the envelope. The note read:

This is what you asked for. Use it wisely.

And there was the recipe!

Now I’ve wondered what to do with this recipe. I could, of course, just publish it. Or I could write a book about my days as a young pastor among the Keys Conchs, as the folks there called themselves. I might even sell it [How long would that last!?]

But I’ve decided to give it away. I’m not even going to swear the recipients to secrecy. I’m just going to give it to folks who have a love for unusual recipes and for historical recipes. I have a buddy from North Carolina, for example, whose family has a recipe for pumpkin soup handed down since pioneer days.

With Fern’s secret ingredient [forgive me, Fern!].

Mrs. Butters' Secret Key Lime Pie Recipe

Ingredients

1 Cup sweetened condensed milk

6 egg yolks [save whites]

½ Cup key lime juice [genuine key lime]

6 egg whites [I told you to save them!]

1 Tablespoon cream of tartar

1 Cup sugar

1 graham cracker pie crust [preferred-regular crust permissible]

½ pint secret ingredient (soft vanilla ice cream)

Procedure

Filling

Add yolks to condensed milk and beat 8 minutes

Add secret ingredient and beat until well mixed

Add key lime juice and mix well

Fold into pie shell

Place in freezer until well set. Keep unused portion in the freezer for up to a week [if it lasts that long!]

Topping

While pie sets beat 6 egg whites with cream of tartar for 5 minutes.

Add 1 cup of sugar and whip until meringue makes peaks when beater is removed from mixture.

Add to top of pie

Brown in 350◦ oven and cool in refrigerator for 15 or more minutes for a regular pie or in the freezer for an hour if it is frozen key lime pie.

Now, I wonder if somehow David L. Sloan, a “Key Lime Pie expert” saw this recipe.  Featured in Molly O’Neill’s article, “The Curious Case of Key Lime Pie”, Sloan’s recipe is very similar to Larry’s recipe. https://www.epicurious.com/archive/seasonalcooking/winter/key-lime-pie

Epicurious billed it as “the ultimate Key Lime Pie”

David Sloan's Ultimate Key Lime Pie

The end result is pie with a soft and delicate filling reminiscent of Italian semifreddo.  Most graham cracker pie shells are baked prior to being filled, but because the pie is frozen after it is baked, it is recommended to skip the pre-bake for a tender, easily cuttable crust.

INGREDIENTS

  1. For the graham cracker and cereal crust:
    • 1 cup graham cracker crumbs from about 8 (2 1/4-inch by 4 3/4-inch) crackers
    • 1 cup honey-nut cereal crumbs, such as crushed Honey Nut Cheerios
    • 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
    • 7 tablespoons salted sweet cream butter, melted
    • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
  2. For the filling:
    • 6 large egg yolks
    • 1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
    • 1 cup vanilla ice cream, softened
    • 1/2 cup fresh or bottled Key lime juice
  3. To serve:
    • 1 cup heavy cream
    • 3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar

PREPARATION

  1. Make the graham cracker and cereal crust:
    1. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350°F.
    2. Spray a 9-inch pie plate liberally with nonstick vegetable-oil spray.
    3. In a medium bowl, stir together the graham cracker crumbs, honey-nut cereal crumbs, and brown sugar. Drizzle with the melted butter and stir until well combined. Press the mixture evenly onto the bottom and up the sides of the prepared pie plate and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  2. Make the filling:
    1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg yolks for 1 minute. Add the sweetened condensed milk and beat until pale and aerated, about 6 minutes. Add the ice cream and beat until smooth then add the lime juice and beat until combined. Pour the filling into the pie shell and bake until just set in the center, about 12 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely then freeze until chilled through, at least 1 hour. DO AHEAD: The pie can be baked and kept in the freezer, well wrapped, up to 3 days.
  3. Garnish and serve:
    1. Remove the pie from the freezer and thaw in the refrigerator for 20 minutes prior to serving.
    2. In a medium bowl, combine the heavy cream and sugar and whip until soft peaks form. Cut the pie into slices and top each with a dollop of whipped cream.

Here is a modern version, this one from Joe’s Stone Crab in Miami Beach.

Joe's Stone Crab Key Lime Pie

Ingredients

Graham cracker crust

  • 1/3 pound graham crackers (1 cup and 2 1/2 tbs graham cracker crumbs
  • 5 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar

Filling

  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 2 large limes, grated to produce 1 ½ teaspoons zest
  • 14 ounces (1 can) sweetened condensed milk
  • 2/3 cup freshly squeezed lime juice

Topping

  • 1 cup heavy cream, well chilled
  • 3 tablespoons confectioners sugar

Procedure

  1. For the graham cracker crust: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9-inch pie pan. Break up the graham crackers: place in a food processor and process to crumbs. (If you don’t have a food processor, place the crackers in a large plastic bag: seal and then crush the crackers with a rolling pin). Add the melted butter and sugar and pulse or stir until combined. Press the mixture into the bottom and sides of the pan, forming a neat border around the edge. Bake the crust until set and golden, 8 minutes. Set aside on a wire rack. Leave the oven on.
  2. For the filling: Meanwhile, in a electric mixer with the wire whisk attachment, beat the egg yolks and lime zest at a high speed until very fluffy, abut 5 minutes. Gradually add the condensed milk and continue to beat until thick, 3 or 4 minutes longer. Lower the mixer speed and slowly add the lime juice, mixing just until combined, no longer. Pour mixture into the pie crust. Bake for 10 minutes, or until the filling has set. Cool on a wire rack, then refrigerate. Freeze for 15 to 20 minutes before serving.
  3. For the topping: Whip the cream and the confectioners’ sugar until nearly stiff. Cut the pie in wedges and serve very cold, topping each wedge with a large dollop of whipped cream.

Yield: 1 (9-inch) pie Prep Time: 40 minutes Cook Time: 20 minutes

Servings: 8

Preparation Time: 1 hour

If you’re feeling terribly Little-House-on-the-Prairie you can make your own sweetened condensed milk, also known as dulce de leche, by pouring 1 quart whole milk and 1 cup sugar into a large, wide pot. Heat to a simmer. Cook, stirring now and then, until thick, sweet and tan-colored, about 1 ½ hours. The milk should reduce by 60%. The difference between condensed milk and evaporated milk is the addition of the sugar to the evaporated milk. Condensed milk was developed by Gail Borden, Jr. in 1853, and was used as a ration for Union soldiers in the Civil War, as it was stable in a can and required no refrigeration.

 

Another take is from Pepe’s cafe in Key West, Florida.  The addition of egg whites to the filling makes it fluffier than more traditional versions.

Pepe's Cafe Key Lime Pie

Yield 8 servings

Ingredients:

For the graham cracker crust

  • 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (from 12 graham cracker)
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For the filling

  • 2 large egg whites
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 14 ounces (1 can) sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed Key Lime juice

To serve

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar

Preparation

Make the crust

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F
  2. Mix the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and cinnamon.  Drizzle with the melted butter and stir until well combined.  Press the mixture into the bottom and sides of a 9 inch pie plate.  Bake until set and golden brown, about 10 minutes.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Make the filling

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk the egg whites until they hold stiff peaks.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the condensed milk.  Add the lime juice and whisk until combined.  Gently fold in 1/3 of the egg whites until no white is seen, then add the rest of the egg whites and fold in gently.  Spread the mixture into the prepared crust and bake until just set in the center, about 20 minutes.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely, then refrigerate for at least 2 hours prior to serving.

To serve, combine the heavy cream and sugar and whisk until soft peaks form.  Use the sweetened cream to top each slice of pie.

Here’s a version of the pie that doesn’t use the standard sweetened condensed milk. Adapted from “Allen Susser’s New World Cuisine and Cookery.”

Key Lime pie using Lime Curd

Crust

  • 1 ½ cups graham cracker crumbs
  • ½ cup ground pecans
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted

Curd

  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup butter
  • Juice of 9 Key limes, about 3/4 cup
  • 8 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks

Procedure

    Heat oven to 350 degrees. Mix graham cracker crumbs, pecans and sugar in 9-inch pie pan. Stir in melted butter. Mold crumbs against sides and bottom of pan. Bake 4 minutes. Cool; chill in refrigerator.
    For curd, heat sugar, butter and lime juice in top of double boiler over low heat. Cook, stirring, until butter melts. Whisk in eggs; cook until mixture is thick enough to coat back of spoon, about 5 minutes. Transfer to stainless-steel bowl placed in another bowl filled with ice to chill, stirring constantly.
    1. Spoon curd into crust. Cover with plastic wrap set directly on top of curd. Refrigerate 2 hours before serving. However, needs to freeze to set up properly, so freeze for at least 15 minutes prior to serving, and serve semi-frozen to preserve integrity of pie slices. Serve with whipped cream, either on the side or on top.

Not done yet, here are more variations.  This one is from Michelle Norris (aka the BrowneyedBaker).

Key Lime Pie with a better crust

KEY LIME PIE

servings 8 SERVINGS
prep 30 MINUTES
cook 35 MINUTES
chilling time 3 HOURS
total 4 HOURS 5 MINUTES

Quick and easy key lime pie recipe starts with a graham cracker crust and filling of egg yolks, sweetened condensed milk, key lime juice & zest.

INGREDIENTS:

FOR THE LIME FILLING:

  • 4 teaspoons grated key lime zest
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 14 ounces sweetened condensed milk
  • ½ cup fresh key lime juice

FOR THE GRAHAM CRACKER CRUST:

  • 2 cups graham cracker crumbs(approximately 14 full graham crackers)
  • 1/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter (melted)
  • Pinch salt

FOR THE WHIPPED CREAM TOPPING:

  • cups heavy cream (chilled)
  • ½ cup powdered sugar

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

  2. Make the Filling: Whisk the lime zest and egg yolks together in a medium bowl for 2 minutes. Whisk in the sweetened condensed milk, then the lime juice. Set aside at room temperature to thicken while you prepare the crust.
  3. Make the Crust: In a medium bowl, stir together the graham cracker crumbs, brown sugar, and salt, ensuring no lumps of brown sugar remain. Drizzle the melted butter over the graham cracker mixture and toss to combine with a fork, ensuring that the mixture is evenly moistened. Press the crust mixture evenly into the bottom and up the sides of a 9-inch pie plate, and pack tightly using the back of a measuring cup. Bake for 10 minutes; transfer to a wire rack to cool to room temperature.

  4. Once the crust has cooled to room temperature, pour the lime filling into the crust. Bake until the center is set, yet still wiggly when jiggled, 15 to 17 minutes. Return the pie to a wire rack; cool to room temperature. Refrigerate until well-chilled, at least 3 hours. (At this point, the pie can be covered directly with plastic wrap sprayed with non-stick cooking spray and refrigerated for up to 1 day.)
  5. Make the Whipped Cream: Using an electric mixer, whip the cream on medium speed until soft peaks form. At this point, add the powdered sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, while continuing to whip the cream until stiff peaks form. Decoratively pipe the whipped cream over the filling or spread the whipped cream evenly with a spatula. Garnish with lime slices, if desired, and serve. Cover leftovers with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 3 days.

Michelle makes the point that her crust is different, using light brown sugar instead of granulated. As a variation, she also suggests using browned butter to enhance a nutty flavor. She claims the crust is perfectly moist and holds together without leaking due to too much butter. The brown sugar elevates the crust in taste compared to using granulated sugar. With the correct packing in of the crust, the result will give a crust that gives that gives a clean slice every time.

I found when I made Michelle’s crust that I did not have enough butter to adequately moisten the amount of graham crackers.  You must be able to shape the crust with a little pressure, and that requires enough butter.  Also, not mentioned in her recipe, it is vital to grease the pie pan with enough butter so that the crust can separate from the bottom of the pan when you cut the pie slices.

Here is one from Deb Perelman (aka the Smitten Kitchen)

an adaption of Joe's Key Lime Pie

Classic Key Lime Pie
Adapted somewhat liberally from the version at Joe’s Stone Crab in Miami, where I am not.

Every key lime pie recipe agrees that a can of sweetened condensed milk is the king of ingredients. From there, they diverge. Some use more lime juice, some less. (I use 2/3 cup for a nicely tart filling; use only 1/2 cup if you’re more wary of the tartness of limes.) Some use more egg yolks, some use less. (I find I only need 3 for a good set and flavor, but you can go up to 5 if you’d like something extra-rich.) Not all insist that you whip your yolks until they’re pale and ribbony, but it makes for a lovely final texture and I think is worth it.

Most importantly, despite the name, you don’t need key limes to make this. I mean, if you can get them, please do. They’re wonderful. But I made this, as I often do, with regular grocery store Persian limes and it’s no less dreamy with them.

Crust
1 1/2 cups (155 grams) finely ground graham cracker crumbs (from about 10 crackers)
3 tablespoons (40 grams) granulated sugar
2 pinches sea salt
7 tablespoons (100 grams) unsalted butter, melted

Filling
1 1/2 tablespoons finely grated lime zest
3 large egg yolks (though extra-large would do you no harm here)
1 14-ounce (396-gram) can sweetened condensed milk
2/3 cup (155 ml) fresh lime juice (from about 1 dozen tiny key limes or 4 persian/regular limes)

To Finish
3/4 cup (175 ml) heavy whipping cream
1 to 2 tablespoons powdered or granulated sugar, to taste

Heat oven: To 350°F (176°C).

Make crust: Combine graham crumbs, sugar and salt in a medium bowl and stir until mixed. Add butter and stir until crumbs are evenly coated. SDR note:  liberally butter the bottom and sides of the pie pan.  Press crumbs into the bottom and up the sides of a standard 9-inch pie dish. I like to use the outer edge of a heavy measuring cup to press in neat, firm sides but nobody will be the wiser if you just use your fingertips. Bake crust until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Set on cooling rack while you prepare filling. Leave oven on.

Make filling: Zest limes into the bottom of a medium bowl until you have 1 1/2 tablespoons. Beat zest and egg yolks with an electric mixer until pale and thick, about 5 minutes. Add sweetened condensed milk and beat until thickened again, about 3 minutes more. Squeeze zested limes until you have 2/3 cups juice.  Depending on the size of the limes, you will need from 4 to 6 Persian limes to get enough juice. Whisk into yolk mixture until combined. Pour into graham crust and bake pie for another 10 minutes, until set but not browned on top at all. Let pie cool completely before adding topping — you can do this outside (thank you, January!) or even in your freezer (but don’t forget about it) to hasten the process, and your pie reward, along.

Make topping: In a medium bowl, beat cream and sugar until soft peaks are formed. Spread over top of chilled pie. Ideally, pie should be chilled at least another 2 to 3 hours with the cream on top so that it can fully set before you take a slice, but whether that happens is between you and your pie.

Key lime pie keeps in fridge for a week, though certainly not around here.

Deb’s variation produces a wonderfully tart concoction of a dessert.  Having some whipped cream on top will cut the tartness as a nice counterpoint.

I will let Stella Parks have the last crack at the best key lime pie.  Here is her pie…

Creamy Lime Pie

This pie relies on the killer combo of citrus and dairy (think Creamsicle) for a mellow, sweet, and sour dessert. The crispy whole wheat crust underscores the zippy custard with its graham-like flavor, while fluffy peaks of toasted meringue recall those of a classic lemon meringue pie. It all comes together in a pie that tastes both familiar and distinctive at the same time.

Why It Works

  • Milk softens the sour edge of lime, for a filling that’s creamy and tart but mellow.
  • Using whole eggs keeps the custard light and the lime flavor fresh and bright.
  • A few drops of rosewater bring a fresh aroma to the cooked custard filling.
  • A crisp whole wheat crust gives the pie a hearty, graham cracker–like vibe.
  • Oven-browned meringue puffs as it bakes, for a lighter texture than meringue browned with a torch.
  • YIELD:Makes one (9-inch) pie
  • ACTIVE TIME:About 45 minutes (with a prebaked crust)
  • TOTAL TIME:5 hours (with a prebaked crust)

Ingredients

  • 1/2 recipe Whole Wheat Pie Crust, blind-baked according to recipe directions
  • For the Filling:
  • 9 ounces sugar (shy 1 1/3 cups; 255g)
  • 1 1/2 ounces cornstarch (about 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon; 42g)
  • 1/4 teaspoon (1g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt, use about half as much by volume or the same weight
  • 4 large eggs (about 7 ounces; 195g)
  • 1/4 ounce lime zest (about 2 tablespoons; 7g), from about 4 limes (see note)
  • 8 ounces fresh lime juice (about 1 cup; 225g), from about 8 limes (see note)
  • 16 ounces milk, any percentage will do (about 2 cups; 455g)
  • 1/4 teaspoon rosewater(optional)
  • For the Topping:
  • Swiss Meringue, full or half batch as desired

Directions

  1. Getting Ready: In a 9-inch glass pie dish, prepare and blind-bake the whole wheat pie crust according to the directions in the recipe. This can be done up to a week in advance; crust can be held at room temperature if wrapped tightly in plastic.
  2. For the Filling: In a 3-quart stainless steel saucier, combine sugar, cornstarch, and salt and mix until smooth, then whisk in eggs, lime zest, and lime juice, followed by milk. Cook over medium-low heat, whisking constantly but gently, until hot to the touch, about 5 minutes.
  3. Increase heat to medium and continue whisking until thick, about 3 minutes longer. When custard begins to bubble, set a timer and continue whisking for exactly 2 minutes. (This is important to neutralize a starch-dissolving protein found in egg yolks.) Remove from heat and stir in rosewater, if using. Pour into prepared pie crust. For a silkier texture, first strain through a stainless steel sieve, pushing the thick custard through with a flexible spatula.
  4. For the Topping: Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and preheat to 375°F (190°C). Prepare Swiss Meringue as directed, making a half or full batch depending on your own personal preference for meringue. Transfer to a piping bag fitted with a large star tip. Starting at the very edge of the pie, pipe meringue kisses over surface of custard until completely covered. Alternatively, spread meringue over custard with the back of a spoon. Place on a wire rack set inside a half sheet pan (this setup minimizes heat transfer to the custard) and bake pie until meringue is well browned, about 15 minutes.
  5. To Serve: Cool pie to room temperature, then cover loosely in plastic and refrigerate until no warmer than 60°F (16°C), about 3 1/2 hours. Cut with a wet chef’s knife, rinsing the blade clean with cold water between slices. Wrapped in plastic, leftovers can be refrigerated up to 1 week.

All of the recipes are slightly different, so decide which is best!

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A mashup of a cookie and a cake, plus a couple of new cookies


Molly Yeh is a food blogger and recently, a host of the show Girl Meets Farm on the FoodTV network.  Her food is a combination of her Jewish Mother and Chinese Father (her Dad, John Bruce Yeh is a principal clarinetist at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra) and despite her proclivity to use sprinkles on almost every dessert, her food is very interesting.  She came up with this recipe for a chocolate chip cookie cake and I thought it was interesting enough to share.

Molly Yeh’s Chocolate chip cookie cake


A low height cake that has some of the consistency of a chocolate chip cookie made with almond and hazelnut flours and is thus gluten free.

Ingredients

Cake

  • 1 cup almond flour
  • 1 cup hazelnut flour (grind up whole hazelnuts to make a flour)
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon almond extract
  • ½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips plus more for topping
  • Sea salt

Buttercream frosting

  •  1 pound unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream

 

Instructions

  1. Combine the almond flour hazelnut flower granulated sugar brown sugar salt baking soda and one egg and whisk together.  Add the vanilla a almond extracts and mix together with a spatula. Continue to mix and until it comes together as a dough. Mix in the Chocolate chips to combine.
  2.  Grease an 8 inch cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. Pat the dough into the pan evenly. Top the dough with extra chocolate chips and a little sea salt.
  3. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 20-22 minutes. The dough will sink towards the center, this is normal.

For the buttercream:

  1. Take four sticks of unsalted butter, one cup of powdered sugar for each stick of butter, a pinch of salt, and a teaspoon of vanilla extract. Add 2 tablespoons of heavy cream, and mix to combine with a hand or stand mixer. Divide the frosting into four bowls (save a little to have as white) and color with different food colorings (gold, tulip red, green and wedgewood).  Mix well, put into piping bags. Pipe a white border at the edge of the depression of the top of the cake, then alternate piped flowers of different colors to fill the center.
  2. The posted recipe used 2 sticks of butter, 3 cups of powdered sugar, 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and 3 tablespoons of heavy cream.
  3.  An alternative frosting uses the same pound of butter but add tahini, vanilla extract, salt, powdered sugar, cinnamon.  The amount of tahini is not specified but looked to be about ½ cup.

While we are at it, since we are in the realm of cookiedom, Dominique Ansel has a new cookbook:  Everyone can Bake.  In it he published his recipe for his version of the venerable chocolate chip cookie, so since he put it on YouTube, I thought I’d put it here:

Chocolate Chunk Cookies by Dominque Ansel

 Ingredients 

  • 190 grams (14 tbs) unsalted butter at room temperature  
  • 130 grams (2/3 cup) granulated sugar 
  • 130 grams (2/3 cup) packed light brown sugar 
  • 80 grams (2 large) eggs 
  • 330 grams (2 2/3 cups) all-purpose flour 
  • 4 grams (1 tsp) baking soda 
  • 6 grams (1 tsp) salt 
  • 100 grams (2/3 cup) milk chocolate chips 
  • 100 grams (2/3 cup) dark chocolate chips 

 Instructions  

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 C).  Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. 
  2. You can soften the butter in the microwave with pulses of power to get to the soft but not melted stage needed.  In a large mixing bowl, combine butter and the 2 sugars with a whisk.  Add the 2 eggs and mix until incorporated. 
  3. Add the flour, baking soda, and salt.  Mix until just combined with a spatula.  Fold in the chocolate chips until evenly distributed.  Chill the dough for 10 minutes in the fridge. 
  4. Shape the chilled dough into 2 ½ inch diameter balls, place on the prepared sheet pan and press down slightly to flatten them into discs. 
  5. Bake for 8-9 minutes, until the edges are golden and the center is soft and gooey.  Let the cookies cool for 5-10 minutes and then enjoy.  Once cooled they can be used to make ice cream sandwiches. 

These cookies are more cake like than most other chocolate chip cookies, with a soft gooey center.  Be sure not to overcook.  I also think that 10 minutes is too short a time for the cookie dough to rest and I would try the 36 hour refrigeration as previously mentioned in my posts about chocolate chip cookies (shape them into balls and flatten to discs prior to refrigeration).

And finally, my spouse found this skillet chocolate chip giant cookie on the web and we tried it. It was quite easy to make and tastes good as well. I think it is best to eat right from the skillet after it has cooled somewhat, but is still slightly warm. Although the cookie is good by itself, it is much better with ice cream (I preferred chocolate rather than vanilla).

Giant Chocolate Chip Cookie in a cast iron skillet

Adapted from Tasty Pride; 75 Recipes and Stories from the Queer Community by Jesse Szewczyk

Serves 8

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cubed
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp. kosher salt
½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. baking soda
2/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips
Vanilla ice cream
Rainbow sprinkles (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Heat a 9-inch cast iron skillet over low heat. Melt the butter (you don’t have to bother to cut it into cubes) in the skillet, swirling to coat the bottom and low sides. Remove the skillet from the heat and let cool until the butter is barely warm, about 5 minutes. 

Add the brown sugar to the skillet and mix it thoroughly into the butter, being sure to not have any clumps of sugar. Then add the vanilla and egg to the skillet and stir until the mixture is smooth. Add the flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda and stir just until combined; do not overmix. Stir in half the chocolate chips. Spread the dough in the skillet; wipe off any dough stuck to the sides. Top with the remaining chocolate chips.

Bake until set around the sides but still gooey in the middle, 20-25 minutes (I found in my oven it took the whole 25 minutes). Let cool slightly, cut into slices, and then top with scoops of ice cream (and optional sprinkles), and serve immediately.

Enjoy!

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Who makes the best Bolognese Sauce?


There are many iterations of a classic bolognese sauce. First, here is Ms. Hazen’s famous bolognese sauce, as republished by the NY Times

Marcella Hazan's Bolognese Sauce

as reprinted in

THE NEW YORK TIMES

  • YIELD 2 heaping cups, for about 6 servings and 1 1/2 pounds pasta
  • TIME At least 4 hours

Marcella Hazan’s Bolognese Sauce

Jim Wilson/The New York Times

After the death in 2013 of Marcella Hazan, the cookbook author who changed the way Americans cook Italian food, The Times asked readers which of her recipes had become staples in their kitchens. Many people answered with one word: “Bolognese.” Ms. Hazan had a few recipes for the classic sauce, and they are all outstanding. This one appeared in her book “The Essentials of Classic Italian Cuisine,” and one reader called it “the gold standard.” Try it and see for yourself.

 

INGREDIENTSéé

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 3 tablespoons butter plus 1 tablespoon for tossing the pasta
  • ½ cup chopped onion
  •  cup chopped celery
  •  cup chopped carrot
  • ¾ pound ground beef chuck (or you can use 1 part pork to 2 parts beef)
  •  Salt
  •  Black pepper, ground fresh from the mill
  • 1 cup whole milk
  •  Whole nutmeg
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 ½ cups canned imported Italian plum tomatoes, cut up, with their juice
  • 1 ¼ to 1 ½ pounds pasta
  •  Freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese at the table

PREPARATION

  1. Put the oil, butter and chopped onion in the pot and turn the heat on to medium. Cook and stir the onion until it has become translucent, then add the chopped celery and carrot. Cook for about 2 minutes, stirring vegetables to coat them well.
  2. Add ground beef, a large pinch of salt and a few grindings of pepper. Crumble the meat with a fork, stir well and cook until the beef has lost its raw, red color.
  3. Add milk and let it simmer gently, stirring frequently, until it has bubbled away completely. Add a tiny grating — about 1/8 teaspoon — of nutmeg, and stir.
  4. Add the wine, let it simmer until it has evaporated, then add the tomatoes and stir thoroughly to coat all ingredients well. When the tomatoes begin to bubble, turn the heat down so that the sauce cooks at the laziest of simmers, with just an intermittent bubble breaking through to the surface. Cook, uncovered, for 3 hours or more, stirring from time to time. While the sauce is cooking, you are likely to find that it begins to dry out and the fat separates from the meat. To keep it from sticking, add 1/2 cup of water whenever necessary. At the end, however, no water at all must be left and the fat must separate from the sauce. Taste and correct for salt.
  5. Toss with cooked drained pasta, adding the tablespoon of butter, and serve with freshly grated Parmesan on the side.

It is one of the best bolognese around. But there are other versions that are excellent as well. This one is from Bon Appétit’s collection of best recipes.

BA best bolognese with pasta

INGREDIENTS
• 1 medium onion, chopped
• 1 celery stalk, chopped
• 1 small carrot, peeled, chopped
• 3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
• 1 lb. ground beef chuck (20% fat), patted dry
• Kosher salt
• 3 oz. thinly sliced pancetta, finely chopped
• 1 cup dry white wine
• ⅓ cup tomato paste
• 1 bay leaf
• Pinch of finely grated nutmeg
• 2 cups (or more) homemade chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth
• 1 cup whole milk
• 1 lb. fresh tagliatelle or pappardelle, or dry rigatoni
• 2 oz. finely grated Parmesan (about ½ cup), plus more for serving
RECIPE PREPARATION
• Pulse onion, celery, and carrot in a food processor until very finely chopped. Transfer to a small bowl.
• Heat oil in a large pot over medium. Break beef into small clumps (about 1½”) and add to pot; season lightly with salt. Cook, stirring occasionally but not breaking meat apart, until beef is lightly browned but not crisp, 6–8 minutes. It may be gray in spots (that’s okay!) and still a little pink in the center. Using a slotted spoon, transfer beef to a medium bowl.
• Wipe out pot. Cook pancetta in pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until pancetta has released some of its fat and is crisp, 6–8 minutes. Add onion mixture to pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are very soft and beginning to stick to surface, 6–8 minutes.
• Return beef to pot and pour in wine. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, smashing down on beef with a wooden spoon, until wine is evaporated, surface of pot is almost dry, and meat is finely ground, 12–15 minutes. (The meat should be reduced to what looks like little bits. It takes a bit of effort, but you can take breaks.) Add tomato paste, bay leaf, and nutmeg and cook, stirring occasionally and still pressing down on meat, until tomato paste is slightly darkened, about 5 minutes.
• Pour stock and milk into pot; add a pinch of salt. Reduce heat to the lowest setting and cook, uncovered and stirring occasionally, until meat is very, very tender, 2–2½ hours. There shouldn’t be any rapid bubbles at this stage. Instead, the sauce should release the occasional small bubble or two. When finished, the sauce should have the texture of and look like a sloppy joe mixture. If the liquid reduces before the meat is completely tender, add an extra ½ cup stock and continue cooking. Discard bay leaf. Taste sauce and adjust seasoning with salt; keep warm.
• Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water. If using fresh pasta, cook about 3 minutes. If using dry, cook until very al dente, about 2 minutes less than package directions.
• Using tongs, transfer pasta to pot with sauce. Add 1 cup pasta cooking liquid and ½ cup Parmesan. Increase heat to medium, bring to a simmer, and cook, tossing constantly, until pasta is al dente and liquid is slightly thickened, about 2 minutes.
• Transfer pasta to a platter and top with more Parmesan.
• Do Ahead: Sauce can be made 4 days ahead. Cover and chill.

And for another worthy variation:

America’s Test Kitchen Bolognese Sauce

Pasta with Classic Bolognese Sauce

WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS: A good Bolognese sauce should be thick and smooth with rich, complex flavor. The meat should be first and foremost, but there should be sweet, salty, and acidic flavors in the background. To get this complexity, we built our Bolognese in layers, starting with just onion, carrot, and celery, sautéed in butter. Then we added meatloaf mix (a combination of ground beef, veal, and pork). For dairy, we used milk, which complemented the meat flavor without adding too much richness. Once the milk was reduced, we added white wine to the pot for a more robust sauce, followed by chopped whole canned tomatoes. A long, slow simmer produced a luxuriously rich sauce with layers of flavor and tender meat. If you would like to double this recipe, increase the simmering times for the milk and the wine to 30 minutes each, and the simmering time to 4 hours once the tomatoes are added. Just about any pasta shape complements this meaty sauce, but fettuccine and linguine are the test kitchen favorites.

SERVES 4 TO 6
TOTAL TIME 4 HOURS

If you can’t find meatloaf mix, use 6 ounces (85 percent lean) ground beef and 6 ounces ground pork.

5 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons finely chopped onion
2 tablespoons minced carrot
2 tablespoons minced celery
12 ounces meatloaf mix

Salt and pepper
1 cup whole milk
1 cup dry white wine
1 (28‑ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes, drained with juice reserved, tomatoes chopped fine
1 pound fettuccine or linguine
Grated Parmesan cheese

  1. Melt 3 tablespoons butter in Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion, carrot, and celery and cook until softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in meatloaf mix and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook, breaking up meat with wooden spoon, until no longer pink, about 3 minutes.
  2. Stir in milk, bring to simmer, and cook until milk evaporates and only rendered fat remains, 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in wine, bring to simmer, and cook until wine evaporates, 10 to 15 minutes.
  3. Stir in tomatoes and reserved tomato juice and bring to simmer. Reduce heat to low so that sauce continues to simmer just barely, with occasional bubble or two at surface, until liquid has evaporated, about 3 hours. Season with salt to taste. (Sauce can be refrigerated for up to 2 days or frozen for up to 1 month.)
  4. Meanwhile, bring 4 quarts water to boil in large pot. Add pasta and 1 tablespoon salt and cook, stirring often, until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup cooking water, then drain pasta and return it to pot. Add sauce and remaining 2 tablespoons butter and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste and add reserved cooking water as needed to adjust consistency. Serve with Parmesan.

All good bolognese sauces take some time to make. Most classic versions use a combination of ground beef, veal and pork, but as you see from these recipes, that medley is not a basic requirement. I do think a mix of pork, either in the form of ground pork meat or bacon/pancetta adds more taste than just using ground chuck (ground veal is not that easily found). All the recipes use a sofrito (similar to the French use of mirepoix) as a sauce base, but the Bon Appétit recipe takes it to an almost paste like consistency before using it.

There are some “fast” bolognese sauces (Mark Bittman has one, Dawn Perry has another,  Ina Garten’s weeknight bolognese) with more to be found with a search engine.  One of the things missing from any of the quick bolognese recipes is the lack of use of sofrito.  They are not bad, but do yourself a favor–don’t make the shortcut versions, they are not as good. If you don’t have the time on a weeknight, plan ahead, pick a day when you have some time, and make a good bolognese to have later in the week, or even freeze some to have whenever.

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A better tomato vodka sauce


I got some cheese mezzaluna pastas from a local restaurant that has been selling and delivering to our door grocery items like fruits and vegetables during the Covid-19 lockdown.  This is a great idea as it helps them keep their supply chain going and provide income, and is a convenient service for us to help minimize our need to go to a market.  I didn’t have any jar of pasta sauce in the pantry, so I thought what would go nicely on ravioli.  I could make a marinara, or even a bolognese, but that takes some time.  I wanted something that would taste good and be relatively fast to prepare.

I remember an old post from September 24, 2015, about Rocco DiSpirotto and plagiarism, specifically concerning a published recipe of Lidia Bastianich for her penne alla vodka.  It got me thinking about tomato vodka sauces again, and I think that I’ve found a great one from Serious Eats.  I put it on the cheese ravioli and it was excellent (and easy to make).

A better Vodka Sauce for Pasta

Daniel Gritzer, Serious Eats

According to Pasquale Bruno Jr., author of The Ultimate Pasta Cookbook, penne alla vodka was invented at Dante, a restaurant in Bologna, Italy. Other historians of the culinary arts recognize James Doty, a graduate of Columbia University, as the inventor of penne alla vodka (source–Wikipedia).  It doesn’t matter who invented it, but it became a restaurant popular item over the last 40 years.

Is the vodka necessary?  According to J. Kenji López-Alt, it is needed.

In a series of blind tastings, Kenji found that the hit of neutral booze enhanced the fruity aroma of the sauce while bringing a background heat and sharpness that balanced out the richness of the sauce.

He also zeroed in on what he found to be the ideal amount of vodka—about one quarter cup per quart of sauce, simmered for about seven minutes before serving. My testing aligned with his, and so that’s what this recipe calls for (to get the timing right, the vodka is added about a minute before the pasta is combined with the sauce, and then it’s all cooked together for another few minutes; by the time cheese is stirred in and the pasta is finished, you’ll be pretty close to the seven-minute mark).

What else makes this sauce great? Well, if you look at enough vodka sauce recipes out there, you’ll find that some of them use a very large volume of tomato paste as the only tomato element in the sauce, while others go for canned tomatoes (sometimes with a couple tablespoons of tomato paste added for depth).

I tested both methods and liked aspects of each. A tomato paste–heavy vodka sauce has wonderful fruity depth that, to me, gives the sauce part of its signature flavor. But even a full tube of paste combined with a whole lot of cream can’t quite make enough sauce for four servings, and leaves the onion flavor too dominant. Canned tomatoes, on the other hand, provide a brighter, fruitier tomato character, but none of that tomato paste depth; a couple tablespoons of paste aren’t enough to compensate for that.

My solution: Use both an entire tube (or can) or tomato paste, plus a small can of whole peeled tomatoes. Combined, they yield a sauce that’s nuanced and layered, with richness, depth, and brightness. It’s a winner.

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 medium (8 oz) yellow onion, diced
  • 3 medium garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 pinch red pepper flakes
  • Kosher salt
  • 4 ½ ounces (one tube) concentrated tomato paste, or a 6 ounce can of tomato paste
  • 14 ½ ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • ¼ cup vodka
  • 2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano grated

Instructions

  1. In a large saucepan, melt butter over medium heat.  Add onions, garlic, and red pepper flakes, season lightly with salt, and cook, stirring frequently, until onions are very soft but not browned, about 15 minutes, taking care that the heat is not high enough to cause the onions to brown.  SDR note:  use 6 cloves of garlic thinly sliced, a little cayenne pepper and 2 pinches of red pepper flakes.
  2. Add tomato paste and cook, stirring, until tomato paste is fragrant and thick, about 3 minutes.  Stir in canned tomatoes with their liquid.  Bring to a simmer, then cook, stirring often and crushing the whole tomatoes with a spoon, until the sauce is thickened, about 10 minutes.  SDR note:  use diced rather than whole tomatoes.
  3. Add cream, and stir to incorporate.  Transfer sauce to a blender and blend until very smooth.  This can be done in the pot with an immersion blender, but it will not be as smooth.
  4. Prepare your choice of pasta.
  5. Return the sauce to the pan, and add the 4 ounces of vodka about a couple of minutes before the sauce is served over pasta.  Add the cheese and stir to combine.  If the sauce is too thick, use some pasta water to thin it.
  6. Taste for salt level, and add more if needed.  If you want more of a boozy finish, add a little more vodka now.  Serve over drained pasta and top with more Parmesan.

SDR notes:  The main modification I would make it is to double the amount of garlic to 6 cloves.  I tried to make it using an immersion blender, and I used diced tomatoes rather than whole ones, with the result of having a few bits of tomatoes remaining present in the finished sauce.  I’d opt for a more blended and smooth end product, so I suggest  blending the sauce in a powerful blender like a Vitamix or Blendtec until completely uniform.  You can increase the spice level with more red pepper flakes, or some cayenne pepper if desired.

You will find that this produces a well balanced and tasty sauce for any pasta.  It is better than the Bastianich sauce or any of the ones found in Epicurious.  For comparison, here is the Bastianich sauce:

Penna alla Vodka

source:  LIDIA MATTICCHIO BASTIANICH 

OCTOBER 2001 LIDIA’S ITALIAN-AMERICAN KITCHEN

“This is more an American-Italian recipe than an Italian-American one. I found myself making this innovative dish, which always charmed our customers, quite a bit in the early 1970s.

As simple a dish as this is, I have had requests for it in all my restaurants as far back as I can remember: I like the sauce a little feisty, so I’m generous with the crushed red pepper. You can add as much — or as little — as you like.

Often, restaurant chefs finish this dish by swirling butter into the sauce at the end. You can do the same, or use olive oil to finish the sauce. I prefer olive oil, but I probably don’t have to tell you that by now.”

YIELD 6 servings

INGREDIENTS

Salt

One 35-ounce can Italian plum tomatoes (preferably San Marzano) with their liquid

1 pound penne

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

10 cloves garlic, peeled

Crushed hot red pepper

1/4 cup vodka

1/2 cup heavy cream

2 tablespoons unsalted butter or olive oil for finishing the sauce, if you like

2 to 3 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley

3/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for passing if you like

 

PREPARATION

  1. Bring 6 quarts of salted water to a boil in an 8-quart pot over high heat.
  2. Pour the tomatoes and their liquid into the work bowl of a food processor. Using quick on/off pulses, process the tomatoes just until they are finely chopped. (Longer processing will aerate the tomatoes, turning them pink.)
  3. Stir the penne into the boiling water. Bring the water back to a boil, stirring frequently. Cook the pasta, semi-covered, stirring occasionally, until done, 8 to 10 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Whack the garlic cloves with the side of a knife and add them to the hot oil. Cook, shaking the skillet, until the garlic is lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Lower the work bowl with the tomatoes close to the skillet and carefully — they will splatter — slide the tomatoes into the pan. Bring to a boil, season lightly with salt and generously with crushed red pepper, and boil 2 minutes. Pour in the vodka, lower the heat so the sauce is at a lively simmer, and simmer until the pasta is ready.
  5. Just before the pasta is done, fish the garlic cloves out of the sauce and pour in the cream. Add the 2 tablespoons butter or oil, if using, and swirl the skillet to incorporate into the sauce. If the skillet is large enough to accommodate the sauce and pasta, fish the pasta out of the boiling water with a large wire skimmer and drop it directly into the sauce in the skillet. If not, drain the pasta, return it to the pot, and pour in the sauce. Bring the sauce and pasta to a boil, stirring to coat the pasta with sauce. Check the seasoning, adding salt and red pepper if necessary. Sprinkle the parsley over the pasta and boil until the sauce is reduced enough to cling to the pasta.
  6. Remove the pot from the heat, sprinkle 3/4 cup of the cheese over the pasta, and toss to mix. Serve immediately, passing additional cheese if you like.

You will notice that Lidia’s recipe uses 3 times the amount of canned tomatoes, no tomato paste, and half the amount of cream. I reiterate; I like the Serious Eats version better. See what you think.

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