Almond Cookies

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Ah, the Chinese almond cookie. Last time I was out with A and some coworkers, we started talking about how awesome they were. Since I had some leftover ground up almonds after making Nigella’s Damp Almond Lemon Cake (post coming soon), I decided to make some Chinese almond cookies.

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Smoked Salmon Profiteroles

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When someone says the word “profiterole,” the thing that usually comes to mind is a cream puff – it happens to be the most well-known form of a profiterole, which is made with choux paste.

Here’s the educational part of this post. Choux paste is a form of pastry dough that’s commonly used for cream puffs, eclairs, and beignets. It differs from normal pastry doughs because it’s actually cooked on a stove top before being sent into the oven. The ingredients are simple: water, butter, flour, and eggs. It’s cooked on a stove so that the flour somewhat gels together and creates gluten. During the baking process, the steam released inside the dough doesn’t escape because the dough acts like a net, imprisoning the air inside. That’s how you get a final product that is completely hollow in the middle. Perfect for filling! You can read more about the science on the Joe Pastry blog.

This was my third attempt at making profiteroles. When I used to live with J, I tried the recipe unsuccessfully twice. After my failures, I thought that profiteroles were just difficult to make, but I found out much later (after failing to bake a tried and true recipe) that my oven was unevenly heated. But I digress… My point is that profiteroles are damn easy to make, yet still impressive looking.

I decided to do a spin on profiteroles – which are usually dessert fare – and made a savory batch instead. Smoked salmon mousse was my goal, but I didn’t use any recipe. In a food processor I threw together: smoked salmon, cucumbers, green onions, capers, lemon juice, cayenne, and dill. I pulsed it until well-mixed, and added just enough mayo and sour cream to make the mixture mousse-y. (Not a word, I know.)

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The recipe for the choux pastry came from the most wonderful book ever, Joy of Cooking. Many people say this book is like a kitchen bible, but admittedly I don’t own a copy yet. I picked it up at the library just to give it a test run, and I have to say that aside from containing more recipes than you could ever make, it’s also a great resource for general and advanced cooking/baking techniques.

After baking the profiterole shells, they should be hollow and ready for filling. I don’t have any pictures after filling the shells since they looked the same filled or unfilled. I had the option to cut open the shells and spoon the filling inside, but I wanted to take the hard route and actually pipe it in with a pastry bag. 🙂 Here’s what a hollowed profiterole shell should look like though:

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Choux Paste | Joy of Cooking, 75th Anniversary Edition

Ingredients

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup water or milk, or a 50-50 mixture of the two
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 tbsp sugar (for puffs with sweet fillings)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 eggs, at room temperature

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Farenheit.

In a large saucepan, combine the water or milk, butter, sugar (if applicable), and salt. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat.

Add the flour all at once and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon. The mixture will start to come together, at which point you should continue to stir. In a few minutes, the paste will be come dry and not cling to the spoon or pan. The spoon should lead a smooth imprint when pressed on the paste. Transfer the mixture to a bowl to cool slightly for about 5 minutes. This is an important step! You don’t want the paste to cook the eggs when you add them in at the next step. However, don’t let it cool too long or else it will be difficult to mix the eggs in.

Add eggs in, one at a time, completely incorporating one egg before adding the next. The paste will be chunky after each egg is added, but will smoothen out again once it is incorporated. When finished, the dough should be smooth and shiny. Scoop onto an ungreased baking sheet using two spoons, or pipe golf ball-size balls with a piping bag.  These don’t spread much, so spoon them out an inch wide, an inch tall, with an inch between each ball.

Bake for 10 minutes at 400F, then reduce heat to 350F for about 25 minutes, or until golden brown and very firm to the touch. Transfer to a rack to cool, and poke a small hole with a sharp knife if you plan on filling with a piping bag.

This recipe makes about 25-30 puffs.

Level III – SF: Union Square

eimg_2015I love Dine About Town because you get to wine and dine at places that you normally wouldn’t due to the associated price tag. And if the food ends up being sucky, then at least it wasn’t an expensive mistake. Unfortunately, my experience at Level III falls into this category.

Level III is in the SF Marriott, so the decor is superb, but sadly the food was subpar. I knew I should’ve been worried when we walked in an realized the place was practically empty. The Dine About Town menu did not have any course choices. We had a pre-picked three course lunch consisting of:

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Apples + Peanut Butter, Part Deux

eimg_1997Ah, these cupcakes. I am determined to perfect them! After having forgotten the egg last time and receiving yet another bag of apples from C, I had to make the Peanut Butter Apple Cupcakes again.

Sadly, I liked my “mistake” version so much better. The addition of the egg this time totally detracted from the peanut butter flavor. The resulting cake was more subtle, but not what I was looking for. I think from here on out, I will only use one egg in the batter – just enough to provide some structure to the batter.

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One Market – SF: Financial District

eimg_1977The Three Marketeers strike again! We have reconvened for 2009’s Dine About Town at One Market.

It was both a happy and sad occasion: TGD being heavily pregnant, and S breaking the news that she’ll be moving back to Virginia. Ahhh, how I wail at the thought! In the end, I guess we’re all doing what will make us happy though, whether it be having a kid, moving home, or in my case, eating! So let’s get to the food then, shall we?

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Vanillekranse

eimg_1973The Danish have given us so much. Legos, breakfast pastries, Hans Christian Andersen, Aqua, and vanillekranse. Vanillekranse, aka “vanilla wreath,” are THE holiday cookie in Denmark.

My friend and old co-worker, who I like to call “The Great Dane,” allowed me the privilege to try her grandmother’s vanillekranse – homemade and shipped straight from Denmark. Ever since that day, these cookies have always been in the back of my mind, taunting me because I have neither the Danish granny nor the skills of one to recreate the recipe. But that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t try…

As Americans, I can bet that most of you have had vanillekranse before. Heck, I grew up on them. “Hey wait, I’d remember such a weird cookie name if I’ve had it before,” you say? Well here, you might remember them better in this form:

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Ah, now you know. So let’s see how my homemade version stacked up!

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Challenge: Apples + Peanut Butter

img_1928So C, my coworker, has an apple tree or a friend with an apple tree or something. Whenever he brings in a bag of apples to work, I take some with the promise of bringing back baked apple goodness for the office.

Apple pie, apple bread, apple cobbler, apple tart… I could’ve resorted to any of these, but a couple of things: 1) I’m just about out of cinnamon, and 2) there’s GOT to be another flavor pairing for apples that’s not cinnamon or cheddar; I’m so tired of cinnamon-apple anything.

This is where A comes in. He tells me about how he’s been on a big peanut butter and apple kick lately. Hmm… the cogs are turning. Having never tried the combo myself, I went to cut up an apple. Wow. There’s something about the difference in textures and how the saltiness in the peanut butter brings out the sweetness of the apple that lends itself to good eats.

So here, I’ve concocted the following recipe based on Paula Deen’s Peanut Butter Cake recipe and a caramel frosting recipe adapted from Chow.

Say hello to Peanut Butter Apple Cupcakes with Caramel Buttercream.

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