Monday, February 21, 2011

The Traveling Baker: Gonzales, Louisiana

I've recently returned from my semi-annual trek to my hometown of Gonzales, Louisiana.  In addition to being the jambalaya capital of the world, Gonzales is home to great po-boys and Cal's Bakery.  Located less than a mile from the house I grew up in, Cal's has been a Gonzales institution for a lot longer than I've been around.

When I was little, my Papaw would go to Cal's on Saturday mornings and come home with cinnamon rolls.  In a true display of Cajun lily-guilding, he'd split them open and fry them in butter.  Once I was old enough to cross the street, I'd ride my bike there, bringing donuts home to surprise my mom and godmother.  All of my birthday cakes (including the one with the New Kids on the Block edible image) came from Cal's.  A trip home is not complete without stopping by.

Now that I've become a cake snob, I tend to spend my calories on the donuts.  Cal's has the best donuts.  Ever.  I mean it.  They're not fancy, but they are the perfect blend of textures and flavors.  The jelly donut literally explodes with raspberry filling, which is the same filling they use in cakes.  The donuts (and donut holes) come two ways: traditional glazed and chocolate glazed.  The chocolate glaze is something I've not seen anywhere else, so I feel the need to eat at least a half dozen.  Holes, that is; I'm not completely without restraint.

And since anytime between New Year's and Ash Wednesday is considered Mardi Gras season, visiting Ca'ls in February also means king cake.  I'll tell you the story of king cake when I make my own in a couple of weeks, but I'll tell you that this one was filled with cinnamon sugar and sweet sream cheese and was yummy.  I had to leave before we found the baby, so either my mom or my godmother owe me a king cake the next time I'm down!

What is it about nostalgia that can make baked goods taste even better?  Perhaps it's the sweet memories along with the sweet treats.  Either way, Cal's is one of my favorite place to visit.  If you ever find yourself traveling I-10 between New Orleans and Batong Rouge, hop off at exit 179 and head just a couple of miles down Burnside, a.k.a. Hwy 44.  If you're feeling absurdly indulgent, try the fried croissant.  But no matter what you try, I guarantee that Cal's Bakery is the best way in Gonzales to...

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Saturday, February 19, 2011

Raspberry Jumblies

If you read this blog with any regularity, you know I love a good bar cookie.  Crisp and crumbly, soft and chewy--I love them all.  They come together easily, bake all in one pan, and travel well.

When I was in high school, I would bake standard chocolate chip cookie dough into bars to take along to quiz bowl tournaments.  I'm sure that the Sacred Heart girls would have won the state championship regardless, but it was nice to give those Episcopal School of Acadiana boys a little extra distraction.

Several years ago, I came across a recipe that reminded me of those quiz bowl days.  Raspberry Jumbles were basically the same cookie I'd been making, but with the addition of a layer of raspberry jam.  They quickly became known as "jumblies" (think Austin Powers) and have been a house favorite ever since.

To make jumblies, you'll need about two cups of chocolate chip cookie dough (about a half-batch of a standard scratch recipe or one log of slice-and-bake) and about a quarter of a cup of raspberry jam. 

Here's what you do:

Preheat oven to 350 and spray an 8-inch square pan with non-stick spray.
Spread about 1 1/2 cups of dough in the pan.
Spread jam over dough.
Spoon remaining dough over jam.

Bake 25-30 minutes, until center is just set.

They're sort of thumbprint meets toll house.  And much like brownies, the corners and edges are the best part.  They also look nice, all jumbl(i)ed up.  Take your chocolate chip cookies on a new adventure and...

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Friday, February 11, 2011

Butter Goes Brown

I'm a big fan of brown butter.  It's rich and nutty and plays well with both savory and sweet applications.  And since I always (always) have butter on hand, it's a fun gourmet trick to keep in your back pocket.  When this month's Cooking Club magazine arrived with a full feature on brown butter desserts, I was so excited I stood in the hallway in my coat and boots to sneak a peek.  I was not disappointed.

I was most seduced by the brown butter cherry tart.  Cherries might be my most favorite fruit and are sorely underrepresented in baked goods (didn't I just say that?).  Alas, I did not have sour cherries on hand (shame!).  I did, however, have just about everything needed to make brown butter-chocolate chip icebox cookies.

Brown Butter-Chocolate Chip Icebox Cookies

11 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut up
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons sugar
6 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup mini chocolate chips
1/2 cup turbinado sugar, such as Sugar in the Raw*
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1 egg white, lightly beaten

1. Heat butter in large skillet over medium heat 6 to 9 minutes or until milk solids on bottom are dark chocolate brown. Pour into large wide bowl; freeze 15 to 20 minutes or until consistency of softened butter.

2. Whisk flour, baking powder and 1/4 teaspoon salt in medium bowl.
3. Beat chilled butter in large bowl at medium speed 30 seconds or until smooth. Beat in sugar and brown sugar 1 minute or until combined. At low speed, beat in eggs and vanilla until smooth. Beat in flour mixture just until blended. Stir in chocolate chips.

4. Divide dough in half; shape each into 8x2-inch log. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
5. Heat oven to 350°F. Combine turbinado sugar and sea salt in small bowl; spread on baking sheet. Lightly brush each dough log with egg white; roll in turbinado sugar mixture to completely coat outside. Cut each log into 24 slices; place 2 inches apart on parchment paper-lined baking sheets.

Yes, I crowded the pan.
6. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until pale golden brown around edges but still soft in center. Cool on baking sheets on wire rack 3 minutes. Remove cookies; cool completely.

*Turbinado sugar is a raw sugar with large pale brown crystals and a mild molasses flavor. Demerara sugar, another raw sugar, can be used, or substitute granulated sugar.

Literate Baker notes:  I did not have turbinado sugar on hand and substituted white sanding sugar.  I'm sure the flavor of the former would be better, but the texture of the latter worked just fine.  I also didn't have mini chocolate chips.  Regular chips tasted fine, but made slicing a little less neat.

All is all, these were really good.  The brown butter gave a good depth of flavor, while the crust of sugar and salt worked some the same type of magic that happens with a salt-rimmed margarita.  Mmmm... margarita.  But I digress.

The egg and baking powder made these cookies not quite shortbread, but still fairly crisp.  As I think back to other "icebox" cookie recipes I've tried, they're definitely that style.  I think I may try a variation that is more a traditional shortbread, but with brown butter.  The more butter, the better, right?  Right. Pin It

Saturday, February 5, 2011

A Tale of Two Croissants

I passed the bakery department last night, as I always do on my way to the deli case and/or olive bar.  Mine eye fell upon that tastiest of all pastries, the almond croissant.  Hell, I thought, it's the weekend!  As I put my puffy, nutty treat in its bakery bag of happiness, I could not help but notice another delight.  A chocolate croissant, a.k.a. pain au chocolate, caught my attention and would not yield.

I was flummoxed.  I adore pain au chocolat.  Yet, I would never, ever pass up an almond croissant.  What ever to do?  Decide the situation is much like the rivalry between the Montagues and the Capulets, buy both, and take a few liberties with Shakespeare.  Obviously.

And so I find myself on a Saturday morning, curled up with a nice cup of coffee, two pastries, and my Riverside Shakespeare.  Not a bad way to start the weekend.

Two croissants, both alike in dignity,
In fair Wegmans, where we lay our scene,
From ancient pastry break to new tastiness,
Where sugary crumb makes civil hands unclean.

To eat or not to eat, that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The fat and calories of outrageous pastry,
Or to eat both with a cup of coffee,
And by exercising, burn them?

Alas, poor pastry, I knew him, croissant.

Okay, okay.  I know it takes a very special kind of person to appreciate that.  Have no fear.  I have a potluck later, so I'm going to go bake some easy cookies that everyone will love.  I'll share that with thee very soon!  Until then...

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Friday, February 4, 2011

The Tipsy Baker: Grasshopper Pie

I've written many a post about the blissful marriage of salty and sweet.  Today, I venture into a pairing just as magical.  Today, I write of boozy desserts.

There are infinite ways of incorporating hooch into dessert.  Some amaretto or Irish cream in the coffee, for example, is a lovely after-dinner drink.  You also have your flaming desserts, like the deceptively easy Bananas Foster.  And then there are the desserts inspired by classic cocktails. 

In that last category, my favorite may just be the Grasshopper Pie.  It's cold and minty and packs a nice little kick.  My mother-in-law makes a mean one, and she was kind enough to share the recipe with me.

Grasshopper Pie

20 chocolate wafer cookies, crushed
1/3 cup butter, melted
2/3 cup milk
24 large marshmallows
2 oz green creme de menthe
1 oz creme de cacao
1 cup heavy cream, whipped

For the crust, combine cookie crumbs and butter in a 9-inch pie plate.  Press evenly into bottom and sides.  Chill.

For the filling, scald milk in the top of a double boiler.  Add marshmallows and continue stirring over low heat until melted.  Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.  Add creme de menthe and creme de cacao.  Fold in whipped cream and pour into prepared crust. 

Place in freezer and allow to chill for at least two hours.

Literate Baker notes:  To make serving easier, fill sink with about an inch of hot water.  Hold pie plate in water for 30 seconds or so.  Be careful not to slosh water into your pie! 

My favorite way to garnish the pie is with chocolate curls.  If you aren't inclined to invest the time in that, some extra cookie crumbs are nice, too.

Unless you're planning to eat more than half the pie, you needn't worry about alcohol content.  Unless, of course, you worry about any alcohol content.  In that case, you can use flavored syrups or even a half teaspoon or so of mint extract and a few drops of green food coloring.

Raise your forks; raise your glasses.  And always...

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