Savory and Sweet: Quinoa

This is the second of a three-part collaboration with Cybelle Codish and Taryn Bickley.  For the first part, click here.  For the third part, click here.

Quinoa, for those of you not familiar with it, is an ancient grain (well, pseudocereal, to be exact) from South America.  Pronounced “KEEN-wa”, it’s a rare plant source of all the essential amino acids, making it a complete protein.  In other words, it’s ridiculously good for you.

But more importantly, this tiny seed takes hardly any time to cook (less than 15 minutes), and is surprisingly flavorful, with a nutty aroma.  I keep a stash in the pantry for those times when I’d really love some brown rice with dinner, but have no time to cook it.  Nutritious and fast?  Yes, please.

The first recipe below is for a savory quinoa salad, bursting with fresh asparagus and scallions sautéed in a blazingly hot skillet until just barely blackened.  Lightly roasted grape tomatoes bring sweetness, and pockets of feta add saltiness and a creamy texture.  A salad like this is a fantastic way to use any special finds from your local farmers’ market; just be sure to keep things cut fairly chunky.  That way, each bite is something entirely new, every forkful bound to the next with the rustic flavor of the quinoa.  This particular mixture of vegetables and herbs, however, is just amazing.  It tastes like late Spring.

Second, I’ve adapted a red quinoa pudding recipe from Heidi Swanson at 101 Cookbooks.  Similar to rice pudding, it’s just barely sweet, making it an unusual and hearty breakfast alternative for those of you who need that A.M. sugar rush.  Of course, if you prefer (as I do) to serve it for dessert instead, you can scarcely find a more virtuous option.  Like Heidi, I’ve used a red quinoa here, but it’s purely for aesthetic purposes; if you can only find the more common tan-colored sort, that will work just as well.  A cluster of blackberries and toasted nuts on top turns this humble dish into a cooly elegant plate.

The only caveat in cooking with quinoa is that you must rinse it before cooking.  Quinoa comes with a natural covering or coating that tastes bitter when cooked, but rinsing removes it.  To rinse, use a fine mesh sieve to hold the seeds, and run water over them until it runs clear, using your hand to agitate them as you rinse.  Let it drain slightly, and you’re good to go!

if it's too early for a cocktail, it's too early

Quinoa and Asparagus Salad with Roasted Grape Tomatoes
Makes 4 to 6 servings

The small grape tomatoes are roasted in a low oven to dry and shrivel them slightly, concentrating their flavor into a sort of hybrid between raw and sun-dried tomatoes.  If you have a grill, try grilling the asparagus and scallions instead of sautéing them, for a smoky depth.  And while the grill is hot, throw a few pieces of meat on there; this salad is ideal for an cook-out.

For roasted tomatoes:
1 pint grape (or cherry) tomatoes
1 tablespoon olive oil

For quinoa:
1 cup quinoa
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/3 cup white onion, diced
2 cups chicken stock
1/2 teaspoon salt

To finish salad:
1 pound asparagus
1 bunch scallions (about 6)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large bunch mint, leaves only, chopped (about 1/4 cup)
2 tablespoons chopped parsley, leaves only
8 ounces feta
1 to 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
Salt and pepper, as needed

1.  Preheat oven to 250º F.  Halve tomatoes, and place on a rimmed baking sheet.  Drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil, and season lightly with salt and pepper.  Roast for 1 hour, or until slightly shriveled.  Set aside to cool.

2.  Meanwhile, rinse the quinoa in a fine mesh sieve until the water runs clear, swirling with hands to help agitate the grains.  This rinses off a natural coating that, when cooked, tastes bitter.  Let drain.

3.  In a medium saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and cook until translucent, 3 to 5 minutes.  Add the quinoa.  Stirring constantly to prevent burning, toast the quinoa until fragrant and grains separate, about 3 minutes.  Slowly add the chicken stock (quinoa will bubble up and jump higher than you think) and the salt.  Return to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer for 12 to 15 minutes, or until tender and all liquid is absorbed.  Let stand off heat at least 5 minutes before fluffing with a fork.

4.  Trim ends from asparagus, and cut into 2 inch lengths.  Set tips aside for the moment.  Cut white and light green parts of scallions into 1 inch lengths, reserving green tops.  Toss asparagus (except for tips) and chopped scallion parts with 1 tablespoon olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.

5.  Heat a large sauté pan over high heat until very hot.  Add asparagus and scallion mixture, and sauté, tossing or stirring, until deeply browned or charred in places and crisp-tender, 4 to 5 minutes.  Add asparagus tips, and cook 1 to 2 minutes more.  Remove from heat.

6.  In a large bowl, combine cooked quinoa with asparagus, scallions, and roasted tomatoes.  Chop green scallion tops, mint, and parsley; add to bowl.  Crumble feta in, and drizzle with sherry vinegar to taste.  Toss gently, and correct seasoning as needed.  Serve warm, cold, or at room temperature.

Red Quinoa Pudding
Adapted from 101 Cookbooks
Makes 4 servings

This dish can be served at breakfast just as easily as it can for dessert.  You can swap the sugar for honey if you like, and feel free to use regular quinoa if you can’t find the red type.  Both options will work equally well.

1 cup red quinoa
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3 cups milk
3 tablespoons sugar
1 three-fingered pinch salt
1 cinnamon stick
3 pods cardamom, crushed, seeds only
For serving (optional): toasted pecans, fresh berries, honey, plain yogurt

1.  Rinse the quinoa in a fine mesh sieve until the water runs clear, swirling with hands to help agitate the grains.  This rinses off a natural coating that, when cooked, tastes bitter.  Let drain.

2.  In a medium saucepan, heat butter over medium-high heat.  Add quinoa.  Stirring constantly to prevent burning, toast the quinoa until fragrant and grains separate, about 3 minutes.  Slowly add the milk (quinoa will bubble up and jump higher than you think), sugar, salt, cinnamon stick, and cardamom seeds.

3.  Return to a boil, stirring until sugar is dissolved.  Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer for 12 to 15 minutes, or until tender.  Not all liquid will be absorbed.  Let stand off heat at least 5 minutes.

4.  Remove cinnamon stick, and add additional milk to thin, if desired.  Serve pudding topped with toasted pecans, fresh berries, dried fruit, a drizzle of honey, or a dollop of plain yogurt.

more to come!

All photos by Cybelle Codish.  All styling by Taryn Bickley.

Nonfat Soft Gingersnap Cookies

I’m finally back in my own home, after an extended weekend of gloriously sunny and humid Florida weather.  Everyone down there thought I was crazy, but I luxuriated in the sun and the thick air until I began sweating – and I’m not one who sweats easily.  Oh, I miss getting slapped in the face with humidity the second you walk outside.  *sigh*

We were graciously hosted by my boyfriend’s mother and siblings, and shortly before leaving Chicago, I decided to bring a little food-related hostess gift along.  Looking for something simple and, owing to recent health issues within the family, something reasonably healthy (but still a wee bit indulgent), I came across these soft gingersnaps on David Lebovitz’s site.

The main thing that caught my eye was the word “nonfat” in the title.  David Lebovitz may be many things, but a health-food junkie he ain’t; I don’t think I’ve ever seen that word on his blog before.  If he’s talking about nonfat cookies, they’ve just got to be worth it.

More importantly, they were soft cookies, which are much more travel-friendly than crisp or crumbly cookies.  After confirmation from the boyfriend regarding his mother’s preferred flavor of cookie (molasses), I had a winner.

I won’t post the recipe here, as I didn’t change a single thing; but you can find it here on Mr. Lebovitz’s site.  (Well, okay, I did use some coarse demerara sugar to roll the dough in, and I made them quite small because I love tiny cookies, but those changes certainly don’t qualify as an adaptation.)

Despite my determination to not blog about a gift for someone else, as lovely and as delicious as these cookies were, I knew halfway through making them that I had to post something about them.  This dough was so simple to pull together, and jammed full of robust and spicy flavors.  The occasional chewy bit of candied ginger was a welcome treat in each bite, and the cinnamon-sugar coating provided not only a pretty sparkle, but also a light crunch.

One caveat, though: these cookies have a very short window in which they become perfectly cooked, and therefore remain properly soft.  Bake them too long, and they turn slightly tough.  I think I would recommend making them a bit bigger than I did, as the little darlings baked much faster than I anticipated; larger cookies would allow for a longer grace period between uncooked and overdone.

Otherwise, if you’re in search of a fantastic nonfat cookie, or a fantastic soft gingersnap, or perhaps a fantastic hostess gift, you surely can’t find a better choice than these cookies.

Recipe is here!

My Old Kentucky Pie

No Kentucky Derby party would be complete without a certain signature dessert.  It’s a pie, full of chocolate chips and walnuts, with a slightly boozy Bourbon flavor to its creamy chess filling underneath that singular crackly top, all encased in a buttery crust that has just enough salt to keep things interesting.

But I’m not going to talk about that particular dessert.

That dessert, you see, is a Kentucky specialty called Derby-Pie®.  Yes, with a hyphen and a trademark.  And I can’t make one.

It’s not only because of the trademark that I can’t make a Derby-Pie®, but also because the maker, Kern’s Kitchen, guards the recipe more closely than Fort Knox.  Only four people in the world know how they get that magical texture to the filling, with its flaky, crunchy top.  It’s so crackly!  And perfect!  And crackly!  And since embarking on a series of recipe testing to figure it out would mean certain disaster for my waistline, I think its a problem best left unresolved.  I simply do not have the willpower to not eat such pies if they are sitting around.

What I will talk about, however, is the closest I’ve been able to come to mimicking that enviable pastry.  There’s about a million “chocolate chip nut Bourbon pie” recipes out there, but most of them just end up being a gussied-up pecan pie, with a corn syrup base and some Bourbon half-heartedly tossed in.  Tasty, but they’re about as close to the real thing as a man in a monkey suit.

This version does develop a crust on the top of the filling, but it’s a little thicker and less flaky than the original.  It uses cornstarch to help develop this; sadly, I’ve heard through the culinary professional grapevine in Louisville that the original recipe uses no cornstarch.  But in the absence of any truly reliable information, I’ll take whatever works.

I veered from the original by using pecans in my version, because I grew up on pecan pies like a good Southern girl, and I simply prefer them to walnuts.  Use whichever one strikes your fancy, or even use a mixture of the two.  But don’t dare skimp on the Bourbon.  It may seem excessive, but I can assure you it’s just right.  And I know from personal experience that no one will complain if you even tipple a little extra in.  You know, on accident.

If you happen to be in Kentucky around Derby time (or any time, really), be sure to seek out a piece of this extraordinary dessert, preferably warmed, and served with a healthy spoonful of whipped cream on top.  But for those of us who live elsewhere, we’ll have to settle for ordering one by mail, or endlessly trying to replicate the original.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you and your waistline, though.

Bourbon Pecan Chocolate Pies for a Crowd
Adapted from The Courier-Journal
Makes 36 tiny pies

I always prefer using good quality chocolate that I chop myself, as I love the various sizes of chunks mixed with the chocolate dust that results from chopping.  Chocolate chips, however, are an easier option here; Kern’s Kitchen uses Nestle brand chips in their Derby-Pie®.  For these tiny pies, use miniature chips if at all possible, as they’ll distribute more evenly throughout the filling.  As for crust, I don’t specify any recipe, as people tend to be devoted to their own particular methods (or to store-bought).  Any crust will work in this recipe, as long as it works for you.

7 1/2 ounces (2 cups) pecans
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cornstarch
1/3 cup Bourbon (more or less)
12 ounces (2 cups) good quality chocolate, chopped
Enough pie dough to make three 9 inch pies

1.  Preheat oven to 325º F, using convection heat if available.

2.  Spread pecans evenly on a baking sheet, and toast in oven for 6 to 8 minutes, or until fragrant.  Chop while still warm, and set aside to cool.

3.  While pecans toast, melt butter, and set aside to cool.

4.  In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, sugars, and salt until just blended.  Whisk in butter.  Place cornstarch in a small bowl and stir in enough Bourbon to make a smooth slurry, 1 to 2 tablespoons.  Add cornstarch slurry and remaining Bourbon to egg and sugar mixture, and whisk until smooth.  Stir in chopped pecans and chocolate.  Set filling aside while preparing crusts.

5.  Roll out pie dough on a lightly floured work surface.  Using a 3 1/2 inch round cutter, cut circles of dough.  Place one circle in each cup of a nonstick muffin tin (or well-buttered and -floured regular muffin tin).  Gently press the dough into the corners, taking care not to push holes in or stretch the dough.  Dough will only come partially up the sides of each cup.  (If making more than one pan at a time, place finished pan of crusts in refrigerator to chill while working on other pan.  If you only have one pan, refrigerate remaining dough while waiting for first batch to bake.)

6.  Stir filling, as the chocolate and nuts will have separated out while standing.  Spoon enough filling into each cup to come up just below the top of the crust.  Do not overfill, as the filling will puff in the oven, and will stick to the pan.

7.  Bake at 325º F for around 30 minutes (convection oven) or up to 40 minutes (regular oven), or until puffed and golden brown, and filling feels set when pressed gently.  When in doubt, turn oven off and let pies remain in oven 10 to 15 minutes more.  Let cool in pans on a rack.  Pies will freeze beautifully; thaw at room temperature, warming briefly in a 350º F oven before serving, if desired.

Note:
1.  To make a single 9 inch pie, halve recipe.  Bake at 325º F for 50 to 60 minutes, or until done.

Chewy Chocolate Chip and Walnut Cookies

Here, we have a plate of cookies.

And here, we have a second plate of cookies.

Take a look at these two pictures.  The cookies look remarkably similar, don’t they?  Can you spot any major difference?  Because I can’t.

To provide a little context, I had recently been struck with a severe longing for a chocolate chip cookie.  The morning was progressing along nicely, my plans were underway and getting accomplished, when suddenly, I needed a cookie.  This sort of craving happens to me rarely, but when it does, I might as well just give in immediately, because there will be no respite from its dogged pursuit.

From where I was sitting (in my pajamas, it’s important to add), the fastest way from “not having a cookie” to “having a cookie” was to make some myself.  If there was no time for a shower, then there certainly was no time for butter to soften.  Luckily, the fantastic editors of Cook’s Illustrated helped me out, with a recipe that called for melted butter instead.  If there’s one thing that moves a cookie recipe to the top of my “to make” pile, it’s not requiring softened butter.  Or overnight chilling.  Or, really, anything that puts more than an hour between me and a cookie.

But to go back to the photographs: those two batches were made from the same dough, but shaped differently.  One batch (the top picture) was shaped by dropping the dough onto the sheet pan, using a small portion scoop (a.k.a. an ice cream scoop).  As is, you know, standard for such cookies.

The other batch was shaped using a slightly convoluted method suggested by the original recipe, one that promised a picture-perfect craggly top.  It involves rolling the dough into a ball, pulling it apart into two halves, then sticking the two halves together, with the rough edges facing up:

like so

And man, when you don’t even want to take the time to let butter soften, you certainly don’t want to take the time to shape two or three dozen cookies by hand.  Impatience got the better of me, and I quickly decided that scooping the dough would be just fine, thank you very much.

When I pulled them from the oven, the cookies shaped with the drop method looked nearly indistinguishable from the more painstakingly hand-shaped ones.  But then, I used far less dough in each cookie than the original recipe directed (a full 1/4 cup! what!?), as I prefer cookies that are manageably small; so perhaps the size difference had much to do with the similar appearance of the two shaping methods.

If you like cookies that are as big as dinner plates, however, give this method a shot.  It might just work.  Me, I’ll stick with the drop method.  You can have some of my warm cookies while you’re waiting for your bigger ones to finish baking.

As for the taste, these are some killer cookies.  I’ve increased the salt slightly, and used the coarse kosher type; this brings an occasional burst of savory salt that is just fantastic, especially with the toasted walnuts.  A pinch of cloves deepens the flavor, bringing a more robust note to the chocolate and matching the earthy walnuts beautifully, while a splash of Bourbon (that I couldn’t resist adding) adds a similarly rich, but smoky, note.  These are, unfortunately, the sort of cookie that I cannot stop eating.

Chewy Chocolate Chip and Walnut Cookies
Adapted from The Best Recipe, by the Editors of Cook’s Illustrated
Makes about thirty 2 1/2 inch cookies

I like to use good-quality chopped chocolate in my chocolate chip cookies, rather than chocolate chips, because of the way its stays melty and slightly gooey for ages.  Chocolate chips have additional ingredients that make them hold their shape, which also prevents them from melting smoothly and having that incomparable melting texture.  That’s just me, though; use whatever you prefer, or have on hand.  They’ll still be excellent.

9 1/2 ounces (2 cups plus 2 tablespoons) unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon coarse salt (such as kosher)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon Bourbon
7 1/2 ounces (about 1 1/4 cups) good quality chocolate, chopped
3 ounces (about 3/4 cup) walnuts, toasted, chopped, and cooled slightly

1.  Preheat the oven to 325º F, and position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven.  (While the oven heats, melt the butter.  When the oven has heated, toast the walnuts while preparing the other ingredients.)  Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.

2.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda, and cloves.  Set aside.

3.  In a large bowl, whisk together the butter and sugars until smooth.  Add the egg, egg yolk, vanilla, and Bourbon.  Whisk until smooth.

4.  Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, and gently mix together with a spatula until mostly combined (some large streaks of flour are okay here).  Add the chopped chocolate and walnuts, and fold together until just incorporated, or until no more streaks of flour remain.  Do not overmix.

5.  Drop the dough by heaping tablespoons onto the prepared baking sheets, leaving about 2 inches between cookies.  Bake at 325º F for 12 to 14 minutes, or until the edges are just set and lightly browned.  Let cool on the sheets briefly, about 5 minutes, before removing to a rack to cool thoroughly.  When cooled, store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Oatmeal Bar Cookies

Ever since I can remember, the raisin has been my sneaky dessert nemesis.  On more than one occasion, little Younger Self bit into what she thought was a perfectly normal chocolate chip cookie, only to be horrified to taste the squidgy, sticky goo of a raisin.  (I guess I still do that on occasion; but at least I’m now mature enough to refrain from spitting it out.  When anyone’s watching.)

Luckily for my Younger Self, the raisin often came with a helpful marker: the oatmeal.  I quickly learned to avoid like the plague any cookie that looked unreasonably bumpy or craggy, and that bit of caution worked beautifully for most of my life.

But then, to both my joy and dismay, the world began slowly producing chocolate chip oatmeal cookies.  There was joy because, as I soon discovered, the things are absolutely delightful; they might actually be my favorite cookie.  Nutty, chocolaty, and chewy, all in one glorious and golden-brown package.  But of course there was also dismay; I was no longer able to rely fully on the old warning that had been so simple.  Oatmeal cookies no longer equal raisin cookies; sometimes, they equal something I really want to eat.

I now must poke and prod and examine an oatmeal cookie very closely to determine the level of safety.  It’s just unfair to get a girl’s hopes up, only to dash them with the realization that those dark bits are raisins.  Disappointment from a cookie is the worst kind.

You can see, then, why I was just about to pass over a recent Cookie of the Day from Martha Stewart: they were called Oatmeal-Raisin Bars.  But the photo caught my eye.  I am a bit of a sucker for bar cookies in general (you can cut them into any shape or size you want!), and those. Looked. Awesome.

What’s more, the recipe looked about as simple as breathing.  No waiting for butter to soften, no creaming, no portioning individual scoops of dough.  Just melt butter, whisk with wet ingredients, mix in dry ingredients.  Bake.  Cut.  Eat.  Repeat.  They were right up my alley, aside from those damned raisins.

As easy as they looked, and considering that I had all the necessary ingredients on hand, I decided to give them a try (swapping the raisins for chocolate chips, of course).  The smell from the oven while they baked was fantastic; the butter and brown sugar mingled into an almost butterscotch scent, while the toasting oatmeal came through warm and cheerful.

I may have let them bake a minute or so too long; I think I would prefer these with a slightly under-done center.  But really, I’m just being picky; these are an excellent oatmeal cookie, pleasingly firm and easy to cut.  The oats soften into an appropriately chewy texture, which I was initially a little concerned that they might not do, due to the relatively high percentage of them in the batter.  The oats also provide a sort of ersatz “flaky layer” effect and texture, which is quite pretty.  A touch of cinnamon and vanilla deepen the flavors, and play quite nicely with the chocolate.  A splash or two of Bourbon would not have been out of place, but I restrained myself this time.

I guess if you insist on using raisins, and no one around you finds them objectionable, they’d probably go quite well.  I did briefly consider using currants or dried cherries instead, and once this batch is gone (and those buckeyes, curse you for being so tasty), I may have a go at that.  They couldn’t possibly be simpler to make, and I can almost guarantee acclaim if you bring a plateful along to anywhere.

And for the record, I have nothing personal against raisins; I just have never really enjoyed eating them.  We have an understanding: as long as they stay in their little red box, and I don’t put them in my shopping cart, we do just fine.

Oatmeal Bar Cookies

Yield: 16 bars

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly, plus extra
  • 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (4 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups (7 ounces) old-fashioned rolled oats (not quick-cooking)
  • 1 cup (6 ounces) chocolate chips

Instructions

1. Preheat oven to 350º F. Butter an 8 inch square baking pan thoroughly, and line the bottom with parchment paper, leaving an overhang on two sides. Butter the parchment as well.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the butter, sugars, salt, cinnamon, egg, and vanilla until smooth. Add the flour, oats, and chocolate chips. Gently fold together until just combined.

3. Spread the batter in the prepared pan, smoothing the top. Bake at 350º F until golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool completely in the pan, at least 1 hour. Using the paper overhang, lift onto a cutting board and divide into 16 bars.

http://www.onehundredeggs.com/oatmeal-bar-cookies/

Buckeyes

Sometimes, despite my best intentions, little things in my life get put on extended hold.  Take, for example, the bag of buckeye centers that had been happily taking up space in my freezer for well over a month.

I had previously been merely aware of the existence of buckeyes, and knew of the delights inherent in dipping orbs of peanut butter, butter, and sugar into chocolate.  The knowledge, though, sat in the back of my mind alongside desserts like rice pudding and apple cobbler, comforting old favorites that are surely worth making and are certainly delicious, but that I’ve never actually gotten around to making in my own kitchen.

But after The Kitchn featured buckeyes in early December, I decided they’d be the ideal treat to pack up into darling little tins, tied with brightly-colored ribbons, and hand out as favors at the glimmering holiday party I’d be throwing.  There would have been music and snacks, and potentially streamers.

This party, of course, never happened.  Between finishing up A Bread A Day, the stress of being laid off, driving halfway across the country for Christmas, and everyone I know leaving town at different times, it just wasn’t meant to be.  So the buckeye centers languished, shaped and frozen, baleful globes eyeballing me as I tossed them aside in search of frozen bread or frozen onions.

And finally, as I knew it would, the food hangover that is January (and most of February) finally lifted, and I felt that it was safe to allow a few indulgences back into the kitchen.  Out came the buckeyes, and out came the dipping chocolate, and I now have a freezer full of buckeyes.  Eyeballing me.

Dipping things into chocolate sounds reasonably easy; and it is, if you know one or two small tricks.  One: use a coating chocolate, unless you really enjoy tempering your Callebaut.  Me, I have better things to do, so I use a kind of chocolate that specifically says it’s for coating.  It melts smoothly and easily, and will set firmly without having to worry about the chocolate going out of temper.  If it starts to set up while you’re working, you just heat and melt it again.  Easy!

Yes, there are a few extra multi-syllabic ingredients, which I usually try to avoid; but unless you want to dilute your nicest chocolate with paraffin, or spend hours getting the temper just right (repeatedly), I suggest a quality coating chocolate.  Try it if possible; if it doesn’t taste good to you out of the bag, it won’t taste good on your dessert.  In a pinch, Ghirardelli chips work reasonably well (and can be mixed in to improve the flavor of a lesser coating chocolate), but other brands of chocolate chips don’t melt smoothly.

The second tip for chocolate dipping is all about technique.  The idea is to have a thin shell of chocolate around the center, not an inch-thick coating to have to gnaw through.  To get an appropriately thin coating, dip the center into the melted chocolate, then kinda bounce it up and down rapidly in the chocolate, slowly drawing the center out of the chocolate as you bounce it.  A sort of capillary or suction effect happens when you do this, and any excess chocolate will stay in the bowl, and not clinging to your center.  Very little chocolate should drip off the bottom.

It takes just a little practice, but when you get it right, you’ll look like a professional chocolatier.  You can tell you’ve got it down pat when your buckeyes don’t have “feet”: that little pool of excess chocolate that forms around the bottom when you’ve got too much coating.  A little “foot” is inevitable and okay, as it prevents them rolling around; but if it looks like they’re sitting on a small plate made of chocolate, there’s a little too much coating.

One last tip for chocolate dipping: always melt more chocolate than you think you’ll need.  Trust me, it isn’t fun to try to dip centers into a tiny puddle of chocolate left in the bottom of the bowl.  Use a bit of depth, and your life will be much easier.

As a bonus, the extra melted chocolate can be used to make a simple secondary treat: chocolate krispies.  Add some Rice Krispies (how much cereal depends on how much leftover chocolate you have), and stir to coat.  You can either shape it into individual candies by dropping, or by spreading it out on wax paper into a flat sheet, and breaking or cutting into pieces.  It may not sound sophisticated, but I promise everyone will go absolutely nuts over them.  I like to flavor these by stirring a little peppermint oil (not extract!, it will make your chocolate seize up) into the chocolate before adding the cereal.  These are just as good with corn flakes, or any other crisp and mild-flavored cereal.

Buckeyes
Makes about 10 dozen 3/4-inch buckeyes

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, well softened
  • 2 cups (about 16 ounces) smooth peanut butter (not organic or natural)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 (16 ounce) box powdered sugar
  • 3 cups puffed rice cereal, such as Rice Krispies (optional)
  • 1 pound coating chocolate

Directions:

  1. 1.  In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together the butter, peanut butter, and vanilla until smooth.  Add the powdered sugar gradually, beating on low until incorporated.  The mixture will be stiff.  Add the cereal, and blend thoroughly to incorporate.  Cover the bowl, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
  2. 2.  Roll the chilled mixture into small balls (using about 1 heaped teaspoon per ball), and place on a rimmed cookie sheet in a single layer.  Freeze the balls until hardened, at least 1 hour.  If not dipping immediately, transfer to a plastic zip-top bag and keep frozen.
  3. 3.  Melt the chocolate in a double boiler, or in the microwave, stirring occasionally to help melt.  Remove half of the centers from the freezer, and place a toothpick in each one.  Dip each ball into the chocolate, leaving a bit on top uncoated to give it the traditional buckeye look.  Quickly bounce the center up and down in the chocolate to remove any excess coating, and transfer to a wax-paper lined baking sheet to set either at room temperature or in the refrigerator.  Repeat with remaining centers.  When set, store in a wax-paper lined airtight container for a few days at room temperature, or for up to a few months in the freezer.

 

Notes:
1.   I prefer Skippy brand peanut butter for baking, but whatever brand you use, make sure it isn’t the kind (organic or natural) that separates at room temperature.

2.  I make my buckeyes relatively small; if you prefer larger ones, use about 1 tablespoon of the filling mixture for each one.

3.  The rice cereal is optional in the filling.  To me, “crunchy” is the noblest texture, and I like it nearly everywhere.  Besides, it gives you an excuse to have the cereal on hand to make chocolate krispies with the leftover melted chocolate.

4.  In step 3, I advise only dipping half of the centers at a time to keep them as hard as possible.  If the centers soften too much, the toothpicks will easily fall out, meaning that you will lose many centers into the morass of melted chocolate.  If that starts to happen, re-freeze the centers until hard enough to continue.

Chocolate Tahini Sablés

I found myself the other day just a few ingredients shy of a dish that has been on my “to cook” list for some time now.  (Side note: said dish is supremely flavorful, and is now in the permanent file.)  As I walked to the store, my mind was buzzing, but not with visions of the promised lightly caramelized butternut squash, pungently sweet red onion, or earthy chickpeas.  No, my mind was focused on the tahini I was about to purchase, and on cookies.

You see, I had just made a batch of cookies to scratch a baking itch, and to provide a little midday relief for the sweet tooth that occasionally plagues me.  They were nothing out of the ordinary, just little chocolate chip guys with a small handful of steel-cut oats added.  Perfectly fine.  But as respectable as those cookies had been, they just didn’t ring my bell.  They were good, but not great.  Me, I want cookies to be unquestionably worth every calorie.  Good is not good enough; I want them to be friggin’ amazing.

And so, sub-par cookies tugging at my mind, I set out to buy tahini.  Since my last jar of tahini lasted me approximately five years (before I threw it out), I wondered what to do with the remainder of this jar.  Somewhere along the way to the store, the idea came to use it in cookies.  But not just any cookies, shortbread cookies.  And, ooh!, with chocolate!  Sesame seed butter and chocolate?  Yes, please.

I wasn’t sure where that idea had come from; but when I got home to search my saved recipes for shortbread, sure enough, there was a tahini shortbread recipe recently ripped from Food & Wine Magazine.  Of course.  How quickly I forget; luckily, my brain had filed that away for such a time as this.  The idea of tahini in a shortbread cookie, with a generous amount of salt, sounded like exactly what I was looking for.

But in my search, another recipe caught my eye (original source forgotten, a copy is here), one for shortbread in the French-style, known as a sablé.  This dough, however, used a hard-boiled egg yolk, of all unusual things to put in a cookie.  Being a sucker for unusual ingredients, it was impossible to choose between the two recipes, especially since the latter included a chocolate variation.

There was nothing to do but incorporate elements from both recipes: the egg yolk and cocoa from the one, the tahini from the other.  The dough tasted and smelled exquisite, redolent with the nutty aroma and flavor of sesame, rich with chocolate and a gluttony of butter.  Rolled in coarse turbinado sugar, the edges glistened.

The fragile texture was textbook sablé, crumbling at the merest pressure into the most beautiful sandy crumbs, and the generous pinch of salt in the dough lends an intriguing and almost savory note.  If I’m honest, I only wish the tahini flavor had held up in the oven a little more.  So sesame-forward in the dough, it seemed to succumb readily to the chocolate flavor after baking.  Rolling the dough in sesame seeds instead of sugar would accentuate it, of course; but I can’t imagine giving up that fantastic crunch of coarse sugar against melting sablé crumb.

As good as these cookies were straight from the oven, they’ve only improved after sitting for a day or two.  They seem to take on new complexity of flavor with every hour that passes, and the incomparable texture remains just as good.  With this recipe, the disappointment of sub-par cookies will never haunt you; these are absolutely worth every single calorie.

Chocolate Tahini Sablés
Makes about fifty 1 1/2 inch cookies

Ingredients:

  • 1 large egg
  • 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup (5 ounces) tahini, stirred
  • 3 tablespoons (1 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons (1 1/2 ounces) brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups (6 7/8 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup (1 ounce) unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon instant coffee
  • Coarse sugar (such as turbinado or demerara), for finishing

 

Directions:

  1. 1.  Hard-boil the egg by placing it in a small saucepan.  Cover with cold water.  Bring to a boil.  When the water reaches a boil, remove it from the heat.  Cover the pan, and let the egg stand in the water for 10 minutes.  Meanwhile, fill a small bowl with ice water.  When the egg is done, transfer it to the ice bath, and chill for 5 minutes.  Peel, and discard (or eat) the white.  Press the yolk through a fine mesh strainer into the bowl of a stand mixer.
  2. 2.  Add the softened butter, tahini, sugars, and salt.  Using the paddle attachment, cream the mixture together at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes, scraping the bowl as needed.
  3. 3.  Meanwhile, whisk together the flour, cocoa, and instant coffee.  Add to the other ingredients, and mix on low until just incorporated, scraping the bowl once or twice.
  4. 4.  Divide the dough in half, place each half on a piece of parchment or wax paper, and shape each piece into a log about 1 or 1 1/2 inches in diameter.  Wrap the paper around the dough, and twist the ends to seal.  Refrigerate until firm, 1 to 2 hours.
  5. 5.  Preheat the oven to 325º F, and position a rack in the center of the oven.  Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper, or grease it lightly.  Sprinkle a generous handful of coarse sugar on a flat surface (such as a cutting board), unwrap one log of dough, and roll it in the sugar until completely coated, pressing to adhere the sugar.  Slice the log crossways, and arrange the slices on the prepared baking sheet.
  6. 6.  Bake at 325º F for about 25 minutes, or until the cookies are set and no longer feel very soft when touched lightly.  Slide the parchment onto a cooling rack, and let cookies cool completely.  Repeat coating, slicing, and baking with the remaining log of dough.  Cookies will keep for up to a week in an airtight container at room temperature.

Notes:
1.  If you’d like to boost the sesame flavor, try rolling the cookies in sesame seeds instead of the sugar.