Monday, July 25, 2011

Lemon Poppy Experiment

I need to give my supervisor a gift. He's been great this year, helping me through clinical issues and basically just showing me what it's like to be a therapist. A colleague of mine who has the same supervisor called and "warned" me that she was going to pick him up a box of chocolate or something like that. I typically don't buy people food gifts unless it's something really out of this world, or something impossible for me to make. If I want to give a food gift, it has to be homemade. So today I began experimenting in a series of drafts of what will become the gift for the supervisor.

I had read in the Tartine cookbook about an almond lemon cake (though in the book they actually have a photo of the almond lemon POPPY cake without a recipe for such). I thought it sounded good, but they used almond paste and I didn't have any on hand. So instead, I adapted my experiment cake from a basic recipe for Passion Fruit Pound Cake in David Lebovitz's book. Instead of passion fruit (when was the last time you saw that in New York City?) and oranges, I used lemon zest and a bit of lemon juice. And instead of making a full batch, because, after all, this is an experiment, I didn't know if I'd want a whole bunch around, I made 2/3 the recipe, and baked it in muffin tins, instead of a loaf pan.

The results, sadly, were flat -- not in flavor, but in volume. Maybe this recipe makes a beautiful cake. Maybe to be a pound cake, the rise is not important. But for muffins, or cupcakes, I like to see a bit more volume. A bit of, I don't know, lift? Dome-shape? Something? Well I'll tell you what. You know me, I'm not the most beautiful baker-- I mean, I don't bake or cook the most beautiful dishes. Taste, for me, is taste, and yes, while people say presentation is half of it, for me, that's not the case. For me, it's completely about taste (and relishing at the thought of what great ingredients went into the creation). But regardless, aside from what I prefer, I know other people prefer things that look better. So I'm glad I experimented, but aside from their almond-lemon-poppy taste and their perfect texture (moist, nice crumb, light, not greasy), these cupcakes will not be what I give my supervisor. They will, however, be something I know is a great breakfast or snack cake, that I may make again in the future.
Lemon almond poppy Cupcakes (sort of adapted from David Lebovitz's Passion Fruit Pound Cake in Ready For Dessert)
1 stick butter
2/3 c sugar
zest of 1 lemon
2 eggs
1 t almond extract
juice of half a lemon
2/3 c all purpose flour
1/3 c whole wheat pastry flour (optional - you can use just 1 c all purpose if you wish)
3/4 t baking powder
pinch salt
1 1/2 T poppy seeds

Preheat oven to 350 and oil or butter a muffin tin well. In a stand mixer, cream butter, sugar, and zest until light and fluffy. With mixer running on low speed, add eggs, one at a time, and almond extract. Add lemon. Turn off mixer and add flour, baking powder, and salt. Mix on low until just combined. Then stir in poppy seeds. Spoon into muffin tins until just about full. Bake for 20 min, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of one comes out clean. Makes about 10 cupcakes.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

It happened.

I've always liked peanut butter, but I was never a peanut butter lover, as many are. I liked peanut butter on sandwiches, usually with jam, or sometimes in noodles in an attempt at Asian-style peanut noodles. I did not like peanut butter flavored desserts or candies, though. The idea of peanut butter as a sweet was just not appealing. Didn't get me going.

But then it happened. I was very hungry after working all day and not being fed (a sob story for another occasion), and I was also disappointed and stubbornly angry that all the sandwich places I came across in Park Slope were overpriced (go figure). I reasoned I could either trek to the coop and buy raw ingredients with which to make a snack at home, knowing that from start to finish would be well over an hour and by then I'd be sickeningly famished, or I could stop at the ices place right in front of me and just have a sweet snack. I picked the sweet snack. And not only that, but I picked the peanut butter chocolate chip cookie dough ice! O.M.G.!!!!! I know, I know, I didn't think it would ever happen either! I thought I was a life-long peanut butter lover hater! But apparently, as vipassana meditation reminds us, nothing is permanent.

When I realized my self-discovery, I decided to merge two new interests: Ice cream sandwiches and Peanut butter as a sweet. Genius. Just genius.

Chocolate cookie/Peanut Butter Gelato sandwich recipe (makes 8 ice cream sandwiches and some leftover gelato for later)

Cookies (adapted from Smitten Kitchen adapted from Retro Desserts)
1 c flour
1/4 c whole wheat flour
1/2 c cocoa
1 t baking soda
1/4 t baking powder
pinch salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/4 sticks softened butter (10 T)
1 egg

By hand or in electric mixer, combine all ingredients in order above. With damp hands, roll bits of dough into uniform balls. Place on lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet at least 2" apart (these babies spread!). Bake at 350 for 8-10 minutes. Cool completely.

Peanut Butter Gelato
1 Quart Whole Milk
1 3/4 c peanut butter (I used Smuckers Natural style)
1 1/3 c sugar
1 1/2 T arrowroot powder (or cornstarch if you can't find this)
2 large egg yolks

Pour milk into large saucepan and begin to heat over low heat. Whisk in peanut butter. Whisk occasionally while milk heats slowly. While milk heats, mix arrowroot powder and sugar. When milk is hot, but not yet simmering, add 1/2 c sugar mixture to the egg yolks in another bowl. Temper the egg mixture with some of the hot milk. Then add the egg mixture followed by the sugar mixture quickly to the not-yet-simmering milk. Whisk consistently now -- the mixture will thicken quickly! Continue stirring constantly until it comes to a boil. Then turn off the head, pour custard into a big bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and put in the fridge to cool. Once cool, run through your ice cream maker.

To assemble sandwiches, simply spread some softened gelato on 8 cookies and top with another 8. Your friends will love you forever.