vanilla ice cream

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I haven’t been as interested in ice cream the last few years (I demand butter and flour and the stand mixer and the oven!), but that wasn’t always the case. When Dave and I started dating, we lived near a great frozen custard place. We’d go probably once a week, normally just for a single scoop in a sugar cone, but when I was feeling indulgent, I’d get the brownie sundae – vanilla custard, a brownie, whipped cream, and hot fudge, but I exchanged the hot fudge for raspberry sauce. Mmm…raspberries and chocolate…my favorite.

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This is something like the fifth vanilla ice cream recipe I’ve tried in the last few years, and most of them are very similar. Egg yolks, cream, milk, sugar, vanilla. Heat the cream and/or milk, temper the egg yolks, heat it up, chill it, churn it. In fact, the only difference between this recipe and David Lebovitz’s recipe, which I made last year, is the ratio of cream to milk.

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Dorie’s recipe has a 1:1 ratio of cream to milk, while David’s has a 2:1 ratio of cream to milk. Guess which one I liked more? Yes, the fattier one. It’s smoother, richer, creamier.

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Not that Dorie’s recipe is low fat, and, as a result, it is also smooth, rich and creamy. If you care about fat content and calories and such, then don’t eat ice cream definitely go with Dorie’s. If you want just a bit of extra ice cream perfection, treat yourself to David’s. And definitely top it with a brownie and raspberry sauce.

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Lynne chose this recipe for Tuesdays with Dorie this week and has the recipe posted.

One year ago: Summer Fruit Galette

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clafoutis

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Cooking, to me, isn’t a competition. It’s about sharing and exchanging ideas. Cooking for someone is like offering them a bit of a gift, and competition adds intimidation where there should be none. Plus, whether someone is more or less experienced than me when it comes to cooking, I’m sure I have something to learn from them. So I’ve never participated in a cooking contest.

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Um, until now. This one isn’t just about cooking, it’s also blogging, and it seemed too fun to pass up. The event is associated with the movie Julie and Julia, based on a book of the same name. I read this book years ago, and after the book, I went back and read Julie’s entire blog. In it, Julie Powell cooks her way through Julia Child’s thoroughly intimidating Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year. Not only is the book fun and easy to read, the whole concept of cooking entirely through a book appeals to me.

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To enter, I had to cook and blog about a Julia Child recipe. I’ve owned MtAoFC for years. I’ve just never bothered to use it, at all. I figured the time would come when I was excited to pick it up, and I was right. After scanning through the book, I chose to make clafoutis.

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Clafoutis, it turns out, is really easy. The batter, which is similar to crepe batter or thin pancake batter, is mixed in the blender. Then it’s poured into a baking pan with cherries, topped with more sugar, and baked. To make it even easier, the cherries are traditionally left unpitted (although Julia does call for pitted cherries). Cherry pits release a bit of almond flavor as they’re heated, which is lost if the cherries are pitted before baking.

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That being said, next time, I’ll pit the cherries, because the seeds were a little distracting. Other than that detail, this was a treat. You can’t go wrong with cherries in July, and these were just slightly tart and complimented the sweet batter. The batter cooks up moist and soft. What’s more, there’s no butter or oil in this dessert. So it’s fancy, easy, and relatively light – definitely a winner.

The contest winners are chosen through voting.  It’s an easy process with no sign-in required.  If you’d like to vote, click here.  I’m last on the list.  Thanks!

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One year ago: Comparison of 4 white cake recipes

Clafouti (slightly reworded from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck)

MtAoFC note: Use fresh, black, sweet cherries in season. Otherwise, use drained, canned, pitted Bing cherries, or frozen sweet cherries, thawed and drained.

My note: The only bit of funny business is that Julia calls for a Pyrex pan, then says to “set it over moderate heat.” Pyrex is not fit for stove use. I put the pan in the oven for a few minutes to let the batter set before continuing. I think you could also preheat the pan as the oven heats, and then the batter would set immediately after it’s poured in. (The batter isn’t especially cold, so it won’t shock the hot pan and cause it to shatter.)

For 6 to 8 people

3 cups pitted black cherries
1¼ cups milk
⅔ cup sugar, separated
3 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
⅛ teaspoon salt
½ cup flour (scooped and leveled)
powdered sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Butter (or spray with nonstick spray) a 9-inch Pyrex pie pan.

2. Place the milk, ⅓ cup sugar, eggs, vanilla, salt, and flour in your blender jar in the order in which they are listed. Cover and blend at top speed for 1 minute.

3. Pour a ¼-inch layer of batter in the baking dish or pie plate. Set over moderate heat for a minute or two until a film of batter has set in the bottom of the dish. Remove from heat. Spread the cherries over the batter and sprinkle on the remaining ⅓ cup sugar. Pour on the rest of the batter and smooth the surface with the back of a spoon.

4. Place in middle position of preheated oven and bake for about an hour. The clafouti is done when it has puffed and browned, and a needle or knife plunged into its center comes out clean. Sprinkle top of clafouti with powdered sugar just before bringing it to the table. (The clafouti need not be served hot, but should still be warm. It will sink down slightly as it cools.)

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chocolate chip cookie experimentation

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clockwise from upper left: #4 (whole wheat) #3 (yeast) #1 (control) #2 (bread)

I’m a scientist. I spent years working in labs, and I kid you not that what I did was combine ingredients and bake them. I did not, however, eat the results of those experiments. My cooking lately has become increasingly similar to my lab work. Notes are laboriously taken, samples are diligently labeled, variables are carefully controlled. But in this case, I do get to eat the results.  It’s a key difference.

This comparison is a little different than ones I’ve done in the past, because I wasn’t looking at different recipes. Instead, I used a master recipe and varied just one component in each batch of cookies. I mixed the dough, flash-froze the dough balls, transferred them to plastic bags, then took them on a 9-hour (make that 10-hour, because we missed a turn) drive. I baked each batch without adjusting the oven temperature in between. I had four tasters (including myself). I did not tell the other tasters what the differences between the cookies were.

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Batch #1: This was my control recipe. A fairly standard chocolate chip cookie recipe, the only difference between this recipe and Tollhouse is an increase in the ratio of brown sugar to white sugar.

Batch #2: This was the same as Batch #1, except I used bread flour instead of all-purpose flour.

Batch #3: This was the same as Batch #1, except I added 2 teaspoons instant yeast. The idea to use yeast in chocolate chip cookies came from this recipe, which I liked quite a bit. (Thanks to branny for bringing this to my attention.) However, since the recipe differs from traditional chocolate chip cookie recipes in a number of ways – bread flour, browned butter, less butter per flour – I couldn’t be sure what roll the yeast played. This is what spurred this whole comparison.

Batch #4: This was the same as Batch #1, except I used whole wheat pastry flour instead of all-purpose flour.

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The results:

Batch #1: Frankly, these aren’t my ideal chocolate chip cookies. That’s okay, because the purpose of this experiment was to identify differences, not necessarily find an ideal. (My notes say, simply, “soft.” So much for laborious note-taking!) They tend to be a little too flat, a little greasy, and, yes, very soft.

Batch #2: Alton Brown knows what he’s doing when he uses bread flour to make his cookies chewy. These were the overall favorite, with a nice balance between the greasy side and the cakey side – i.e., chewy.

Batch #3: Yeast apparently makes cookies fluffy. We found this one a little too cakey for our tastes.

Batch #4: I probably should have substituted just half of the all-purpose white flour for whole wheat pastry flour. A complete substitution resulted in cookies that were greasy, flat, and grainy. The flavor was a bit nutty. Kind of what you’d expect from whole wheat cookies, I suppose.

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Overall conclusions:

  1. Bread flour makes cookies chewier, taller, and less greasy (or drier).
  2. Yeast makes cookies more cakey.
  3. A 1:1 substitution of whole wheat pastry flour for all-purpose flour in cookies is a bad idea.
  4. I am obsessive, at least when it comes to cookies!

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left to right: #4 (whole wheat) #3 (yeast) #2 (bread) #1 (control)

One year ago: Summer Rolls

Chocolate Chip Cookies, previously:
Chocolate Chip Cookies (4 recipes)
Chocolate Chip Cookie (Cook’s Illustrated’s “Perfect”)

Master Recipe for Chocolate Chip Cookie Experiments

Please note that I’m not saying that you can’t make good cookies without bread flour, or that yeast will make all cookies too cakey. These were just the results with this particular recipe. All I’m saying is that yeast makes cookies cakier, and bread flour makes them chewier.

2¼ cups (10.8 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) sugar
1¼ cups (8.75 ounces) brown sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips

1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position. Heat the oven to 375F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. In a small bowl, combine the flour, salt, and baking soda.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a hand mixer, or a spoon or whatever), beat the butter until creamy. Add the sugars and beat on medium speed until fluffy. Add the eggs, one a time, mixing for one minute after each addition. Add the vanilla. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour, mixing just until almost combined. Add the chocolate chips and pulse the mixer on low speed until the chips are dispersed and the flour is incorporated.

3. Drop rounded tablespoons of dough onto the lined baking pan, spaced an inch or two apart. Bake the cookies for 7-10 minutes, until slightly browned around the edges and just set in the middle. Cool the cookies for at least 2 minutes on the sheet before transferring to a rack to finish cooling. (If they still seem fragile after 2 minutes of cooling, you can just leave them on the sheet to cool completely.)

tortellini soup with carrots, peas and leeks

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It turns out that pea-picking is way more fun than strawberry picking. For one thing, it isn’t nearly as crowded. Shocking, I know, that strawberries are more popular than peas. There’s also nothing squishy lurking under the foliage, and the peas are plentiful and just demanding to be picked. And pick we did, far more than we needed for this soup.

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I know, it’s July, and you’re not interested in soup. Rest assured that I tried it both ways, and it’s just as good with frozen peas, so you’re free to wait until the weather cools down a bit. Either way, it takes all of 15 minutes to make. Even better, it covers all of your nutritional bases, making side dishes unnecessary, although we found that a chunk of crusty bread is a welcome addition.

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It comes together like any soup, starting with sautéing aromatics, adding broth, then tortellini, and finally the peas near the end. Pour it into bowls, top with some parmesan, and enjoy an assortment of light, spring flavors.

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One year ago: Cherry Rhubarb Cobbler

Tortellini Soup with Carrots, Peas and Leeks (from Fine Cooking, November 2006)

I doubled, or maybe even quadrupled the carrot. Also, the second time I made it (when I took photos), I didn’t have leeks, so I had to use red onion instead.

2 medium leeks (12 ounces untrimmed)
1 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped (about 1 tablespoon)
½ medium carrot, peeled and finely diced (2 tablespoons)
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
5 cups low-salt canned chicken broth
8 ounces frozen cheese tortellini
1 cup frozen peas
¼ cup (½ ounce) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano

1. Trim the roots and dark green leaves from the leeks. Slice the white and light green part in half lengthwise and then slice the halves thinly crosswise. Rinse well and drain.

2. Melt the butter in a 4-quart saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic, leeks, and carrot. Season with a couple pinches of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, 5 to 7 minutes. (It’s fine if the vegetables brown lightly.) Stir in ¼ teaspoon pepper and cook for about 20 seconds, then add the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Add the tortellini and cook for 3 minutes. Reduce the heat to a simmer and add the peas. Continue to simmer until the tortellini are cooked, 3 to 5 minutes.

3. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Portion the soup into warm bowls, top each with some of the cheese, and serve.

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blancmanger

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Sometimes I have a hard time motivating myself to make certain things. Or, what I should really say is, I’m going through a cookies and cupcakes phase. Blancmanger is neither of those.

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So what is it? Basically fancy whipped cream. First, you heat milk, ground almonds, sugar, and in my case, a ridiculous amount of vanilla seeds, and then you add gelatin to the mixture. Chill it a bit and stir in some whipped cream and fruit. Chill it some more. Unmold. Eat. Really, I thought it was going to be much more time-consuming than it was.

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It tasted pretty good too. You can maybe see that I went overboard with the vanilla – I had half a bean leftover from something else, so I used all of that, but I only made a third of the recipe. My blancmanger isn’t quite as pristinely white as Dorie’s, but it did taste nicely of vanilla.

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The only thing I wasn’t completely sold on with this recipe was the ground almonds, whose texture didn’t seem to complement the perfectly smooth cream base. In the future, I’ll probably keep my sweetened gelatinized cream without ground nuts – in other words, as panna cotta.

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Susan chose the blancmanger for Tuesdays with Dorie and has the recipe posted.

One year ago: Soba Salad with Feta and Peas

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casatiello

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This is the third time I’ve made this bread, and the first two times just didn’t do it for me. It seems like a given, right? Bits of sausage and cheese dispersed in a tender buttery bread? What isn’t to like?

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The first time, it was the type of cheese I used that ruined it. I generally like provolone, but I’d accidentally grabbed an exceptionally sharp specimen, and it was way too intense. The next time…I don’t know. Maybe it just didn’t fit the occasion. I just remember it seeming a little too rich, maybe even greasy.

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Reinhart does compare this bread to brioche, and while not all brioche is as rich as the one I made a few weeks ago, you’ll never hear one described as lean. But once you add sausage and cheese to the bread, I don’t know that much butter in the dough is necessary.

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In fact, I didn’t add butter at all. I added bacon fat instead. Yeah, bacon fat doesn’t sound like much of a health improvement over butter, but I did use half the amount of fat called for in the recipe. I really prefer this slightly leaner version.

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Especially because I probably doubled the salami. I wasn’t so much measuring at this point, and I just figured that the more add-ins there were, the more the bread would resemble a built-in sandwich. Which – yum. I admit that I had trouble keeping all of the tasty bits from falling out of the dough, but I’m not complaining about the excess.

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This was by far the best casatiello I’ve made. The bread was tender and light, but not greasy like I remembered from when I’ve made this before. We ate it on a roadtrip, and the muffin-size was perfect for a quick and easy on-the-road lunch. I have a few more casatiello rolls waiting in the freezer, and I think they’ll be great for a plane ride next week. These are my new favorite travel food.

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One year ago: Pain a l’Ancienne – another Reinhart recipe, and probably the one I make the most

Casatiello (from Peter Reinhart’s Bread Baker’s Apprentice)

I prefer this dough to be a little leaner, so I like to cut the fat in half. I also like both the sausage and the cheese chopped into about ¼-inch cubes.

Sponge:
½ cup (2.25 ounces) bread flour
1 tablespoon instant yeast
1 cup whole milk or buttermilk, lukewarm

Dough:
4 ounces Italian salami (or other similar meat)
3½ cups (16 ounces) bread flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
2 eggs, slightly beaten
¾ cup (6 ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature
¾ cup coarsely shredded or grated provolone or other cheese

1. To make the sponge, stir together the flour and yeast in a bowl. Whisk in the milk to make a pancake-like batter. Cover with plastic wrap and ferment at room temperature for 1 hour.

2. While the sponge is fermenting, dice the salami into small cubes and sauté it lightly in a frying pan to crisp it slightly.

3. Stir together the flour, salt, and sugar with a spoon. Add the eggs and the sponge until the ingredients form a coarse ball. If there is any loose flour, dribble in a small amount of water or milk to gather it into the dough. Mix for about 1 minute, then let rest for 10 minutes. Divide the butter in 4 pieces and work into dough, one piece at a time while mixing. After mixing about 4 minutes, the dough will change from sticky to tacky and eventually come off the sides of the bowl. If not, sprinkle in more flour to make it do so.

4. When the dough is smooth, add the meat pieces and mix until they are evenly distributed. Then gently mix in the cheese until it too is evenly distributed. Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

5. Ferment at room temperature for about 90 minutes, or until the dough increases in size by at least 1½ times.

6. Remove the dough from the bowl and leave as 1 piece for 1 large loaf or divide into 2 pieces for smaller loaves. Bake in 1 large or 2 small loaf pans by misting the pans with spray oil, shaping the dough, and placing it in the pans. Mist the top of the dough with spray oil and cover.

7. Proof for 60-90 minutes, or until the dough just reaches the top of the pans.

8. Place pans in a 350F oven and bake for 40-50 minutes until the center of the loaves registers 185-190F. The dough will be golden brown on top and on the sides, and the cheese will ooze out into crisp little brown pockets.

9. When the bread is done, remove the bread from the oven and from the pans and cool for at least 1 hour before slicing or serving.

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puff pastry dough

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Remember when I made these? I was like, they’re so easy! Just cut out some puff pastry rounds, top with fruit and sugar, and bake until beautiful and buttery and perfect!

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Um. “Easy” isn’t really my thing when it comes to baking. I am determined to overcomplicate things.

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So I made my own puff pastry dough. I have tried the Pepperidge Farm stuff, years ago, and I don’t remember being particularly impressed. Plus, bleah, hydrogenated fat. I didn’t know where I could buy all-butter puff pastry dough and figured it would be easier to make my own than search for it.

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As it turns out, puff pastry isn’t all that hard to make. The first steps are similar to pie dough. You mix flour, salt, and sugar, then cut in butter. Then, because pie dough isn’t fattening enough on its own, you work a square of butter into the dough.

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The directions for this are a bit tricky, and I think I would have had difficulty without a series of photos to follow. What you do is roll out the dough into a square that’s about twice the size of your square of butter. You place the butter square in the middle of the dough square, with the corners of the butter in the middle of the sides of the dough. (Uh…did you get that?)

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Then take the butter off and roll just the corners of the dough where the butter didn’t overlap. (Uh…did you get that?) You’re creating four flaps from the corners, but the middle, where the butter was, stays thicker. Once you’ve rolled out the flaps, put the butter back in the center of the dough and fold the flaps over. Now you have a nice little packet.

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Roll the whole thing out, then fold it into thirds like a piece of paper going into an envelope. Then do that again. And again. And again and again and again. You’ll want to chill it in between there occasionally, and it sounds like a lot of rolling and folding, but the dough is really easy to work with, and each roll-and-fold takes maybe one minute. (I’ve been making a lot of croissants lately, which also involves rolling-and-folding, but croissant dough is much more difficult to work with due to its elasticity.)

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And then, you’re done. Then it’s just like having the store-bought stuff, except buttery-er. You can make whatever recipe you want, whether it be fruit tarts, pot pie, turnovers, cheese straws…etc… It’s versatile, it’s delicious, and it isn’t as hard as you think.

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One year ago: Chocolate Pudding

Puff Pastry (from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook)

Makes about 3 pounds

I accidentally added all of the flour into the dough and then didn’t add any flour to the butter package. Everything still went smoothly.

3 cups (14 ounces) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 cup (5 ounces) cake flour (not self-rising)
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, cold, plus 1 stick (½ cup), cold, cut into small pieces
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar or freshly squeezed lemon juice

1. In a large bowl, combine 2¾ cups (12.85 ounces) all-purpose flour with the cake flour, salt, and sugar. With a pastry blender, cut in the butter pieces (1 stick) until the mixture resembles coarse meal, with a few larger clumps remaining. Make a well in the center, and pour in 1 cup cold water and the vinegar, gradually drawing the flour mixture over the water, gathering and combining until mixture comes together to form a dough. If the dough is too dry, add more cold water, 1 tablespoon at a time. Knead gently in the bowl, and form dough into a rough ball. Wrap in plastic, and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 40 minutes or up to 2 hours.

2. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour on a sheet of parchment. Lay remaining 4 sticks of butter on top, side by side; sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons flour. Top with more parchment; pound butter with a rolling pin until it’s about ½ inch thick. Remove top paper, fold butter in half, replace paper; pound butter until it’s about ½ inch thick. Repeat two or three more times until it is pliable. Using a bench scraper, shape butter into a 6-inch square; wrap in plastic, and refrigerate until chilled, about 10 minutes.

3. Lightly dust work surface with flour. Roll out dough to a 9-inch round; place butter package in center. Using a paring knife or bench scraper, lightly score dough to outline butter square. Remove butter; set aside. Starting from each side of marked square, gently roll out dough to form flour flaps, each 4 to 5 inches long; do not touch square. Return butter to center square; fold flaps over butter. Press with your hands to seal.

4. With the rolling pin, gently pound the dough all over in regular intervals until it is about 1 inch thick; this will soften the dough, making it easer to roll. Working in only one directly (lengthwise), gently roll out the dough to a 20-by-9-inch rectangle, squaring corners with the side of the rolling pin or your hands as you go. Using a dry pastry brush, sweep off excess flour. With a short side facing you, fold the rectangle in thirds like a business letter. Turn the dough a quarter-turn clockwise, so the flap faces right, like a book. (This completes the first turn.) Roll out the dough again to a 20-by-9-inch rectangle, rolling in the same lengthwise direction; fold dough again into thirds. (This completes the second turn.) Wrap dough in plastic and refrigerate until well chilled, about 1 hour.

5. Repeat the rolling, turning, and chilling process for a total of six turns; always start each turn with the opening of the dough to the right. (If at any time, the dough becomes too soft to work with, return it to the refrigerator until firm.) Wrap dough in plastic; refrigerate 3 to 4 hours before using the dough.

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brioche plum tart

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My opinion of this recipe might be biased based on the morning I was having.

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First, it was 4th of July, possibly my favorite holiday and the second day of a three-day weekend. I got up early, after getting plenty of sleep (rare on the weekends; usually I stay up late but can’t get myself to sleep in). I went for the best run of my entire life, and when I came home, not only was Dave already up, but he’d done all kinds of chores that we’d been putting off.

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I loved the tart. Are you surprised?

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Plus, it wasn’t hard to make. The brioche dough, which is on the less-rich side of brioches, is mixed and kneaded the day before. Once it’s chilled, it’s easy to stretch it out to the dimensions of the pan. There’s a bit of waiting, as it needs to rest after being stretched, which is the perfect opportunity to prepare the fruit, jam (I used a ginger orange marmalade that my friend sent me), nuts, and sugar that will fill it. Then it’s shaped and filled and needs time to rise before it’s baked, then cooled.

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It’s in the same category as, say, cinnamon rolls or sticky buns, but just a little less work and so much more elegant. The bread is fluffy and tender, the nuts toast in the oven, and the sugar, which seemed like an excessive amount when I first sprinkled it on, reduces to a glaze while the tart bakes. Even the plumcots I used, which tasted bland on their own, were delicious after their flavor concentrated during baking. I can’t wait to find an excuse to show this off to company.

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Denise chose this for Tuesdays with Dorie and she has posted the recipe.

One year ago: Sautéed Shredded Zucchini

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dried fruit compote

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As food blogging becomes more popular and more established, companies will start to take advantage of that to draw attention to their products. At some point, it seems that most food bloggers will have to ask themselves what their policy toward accepting free stuff for review is.

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Michael from Bella Viva Orchards offered me a box of dried fruit, and I was particularly charmed by the disarming honesty with which it was offered: “Perhaps, if you enjoy our fruit, you may want to use it in one of your recipes in your blog, which could be very helpful to us.” Very diplomatic.

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He offered to let me choose the fruit, but I was so overwhelmed by Bella Viva’s huge selection that I let him pick. The fruit arrived soon afterward, packaged beautifully. I received unsweetened pineapple, raisins, mixed fruit, and orange slices. The pineapple, I just snacked on, and it was delicious. I’ve never understood why most dried pineapple is candied – isn’t pineapple sweet enough on its own? I also snacked my way through most of the bag of raisins. I didn’t think I liked raisins, but they became a perfect late afternoon snack for me.

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I thought a compote would be nice for the mixed fruit. This recipe starts with white wine, which is mixed with warm spices and simmered until it’s slightly reduced. Then the fruit is added, along with water, and the mixture is simmered until it’s syrupy and the fruit is softened. The recipe calls for a mixture of apricots and plums, but I wanted to use as much of a variety as possible. My mixed fruit package contains apples, plums, nectarines, peaches, pears and apricots, and I threw in some of the raisins too.

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Always looking for an excuse to have wine for breakfast (even wine that’s been cooked for 35 minutes, I suppose), I served the compote with French toast. It was great! Sweet and spiced, but still with a nice tartness from the fruit. It isn’t the most seasonal recipe right now, but come winter, this will be a handy topping to have around.

I don’t know that I’ll continue to accept products for review, but I definitely enjoyed it this time. My experience with Bella Viva Orchards was very positive, from the customer service to the quality of the fruit. I even have my very own coupon code! If you order something from Bella Viva’s website, enter “cookie” as the coupon code to save 10%.

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One year ago: Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic – best chicken ever

Dried Fruit Compote in Spiced Syrup (adapted slightly from Food and Wine)

Makes 10 servings

1½ cups dry white wine
¾ cup (5.25 ounces) sugar
1 cinnamon stick
8 whole cloves
1¼ pounds (20 ounces) mixed dried fruit, coarsely chopped (3 cups)
2 cups cold water
1½ tablespoons pure vanilla extract

In a large saucepan, combine the white wine, sugar, cinnamon stick and cloves and bring to a boil over high heat. Simmer over low heat for 10 minutes. Add the dried fruits, water and vanilla extract and bring to a boil. Simmer over low heat until the fruit is plump and the liquid is slightly syrupy, about 25 minutes. Discard the cinnamon stick and cloves. (The fruit compote can be refrigerated for up to 1 week.)

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crockpot chicken broth

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Once I started to get a reputation as someone who was into cooking, I realized that there were certain basics that I’d better master. The first step was chocolate chip cookies, and although it took me a while, I eventually learned how to consistently make them how I like them. (This was before I muddied the waters.) Chicken broth is a savory basic that, until now, I hadn’t quite figured out.

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I had specific requirements for the chicken broth recipe I would eventually settle on. Most importantly, it had to be easy. I don’t want to be hacking at raw chicken bones or fussing over the stove. And not just easy, but flexible. It also had to be cheap. Obviously, it needed to taste good.

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I’ve played around with a few recipes before this, and while the results of those didn’t get me excited, I did learn enough to be pretty sure that this would work.

All I did was buy the cheapest cut of chicken my store sells, dump the pieces straight from the package into the crockpot insert with an onion, a bay leaf, and salt, then fill the pot with as much water as would fit. I turned the crockpot onto high for a couple hours, to get the chicken through the bacteria-friendly temperature range as quickly as possible, then reduced the heat to low and let the mixture simmer away for a day or so. The whole process took about 10 minutes of effort and cost $4.

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The more time-consuming part is packaging the broth up for storage once it’s made. This might be easier for me if I had a bigger strainer and more space, but usually straining liquid ends up being a mess for me. I simplified it by removing the chicken legs from the liquid first and setting them aside, then straining the smaller particles out with a fine-mesh strainer.

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One of the trickiest parts of making stock is something you might not think about, but you definitely should – cooling it through the “danger zone” of bacteria growth (40-140F) as quickly as possible. If you simply took your bowl of freshly-strained hot stock and put it in the refrigerator, it will take hours to cool, plus it will heat up everything else in the fridge. Instead, I actually let it set, unstrained, still in the slowcooker insert, for several hours after turning the heat off. The temperature had cooled from about 200F to 160F (still significantly hotter than bacteria prefer) when I started the straining process. Then, I strained the liquid straight until a bowl that I’d previously added 2 cups of water to and then frozen – so not only was I adding ice, but the container was plenty cold. The liquid cooled to approximately room temperature in about 5 minutes, and I was happy to let the fridge do the rest.

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So putting it together was super simple. Straining it and packaging it was relatively easy. It’s flexible – that 24 hours could easily be extended to 36 hours, and I think any chicken part would work. I avoided the main “danger zone” issues. As an unexpected bonus, the meat on the chicken legs was still fairly tasty, so I shredded that and stored it in the freezer. And, most importantly, the stock was great! Storebought chicken broth tastes like chicken broth, which is a flavor I like, but this homemade chicken stock tastes like chicken, which is pretty nice too!

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One year ago: Salad with Herbed Baked Goat Cheese

Crockpot Chicken Stock

Makes about 2 quarts (8 cups)

If leaving the slow-cooker on high for a couple hours in the beginning is inconvenient, start with boiling water, then just cook on low for about 24 hours.

Okay, so I don’t really remember how much water I used initially. I have a 5-qt slowcooker, and I filled it just about to the brim with water. My estimate of 6 cups could be totally off. I’m sorry.

4 pounds chicken legs, bone-in, skin-on
1 onion, peeled and quartered
2 teaspoons salt
1 bay leaf
6 cups water (or as much as fits in your slow-cooker)
2 cups water, frozen

1. Combine everything except the ice in a slow-cooker insert. Turn the slow-cooker onto high for 1-2 hours (the longer end of that range is better) or until the liquid starts to simmer, then turn the heat to low and continue to cook for 24 hours or so.

2. After about 24 hours, turn the slow-cooker off and remove the chicken legs. Place a fine-mesh strainer over a large bowl, and strain the remaining stock into the bowl, pressing on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Add the ice to the liquid. Refrigerate for several hours, until the fat hardens at the top of the liquid. Use a spoon to remove the fat.

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