brisket and brie tacos

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My stubbornness knows no bounds or logic, as was evident in the cooking of this brisket. First, I refused to buy Dr. Pepper to use as a braising liquid. Dave and I don’t drink soda, and I’m not really into the whole high fructose corn syrup thing, so I didn’t want to buy a bottle only to use a fraction of it. Beer and honey would provide all the acidity and sweetness the brisket needed.

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I’m also not all that into the crockpot. I like it for certain things, particularly broth, but if I’m home anyway, usually I like the firmer texture and added browning of braising meats in the oven. This has always worked great for pot roast and stews, but I’m not sure it was the best method for much leaner brisket, which can more easily dry out.

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Not that I have any complaints though. Topping the tacos with brie certainly solves any potential problems the low fat content of the meat might have introduced. With a sweet and spicy barbecue sauce, stretchy Monterey jack cheese, and slices of creamy avocado, these tacos had plenty going on, despite or because of my stubborn changes.

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One year ago: Pizza with Prosciutto, Goat Cheese, and Roasted Tomatoes
Two years ago: Strawberry Daiquiri Ice Cream
Three years ago: Chicken Fajitas
Four years ago: Pasta with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce
Five years ago: Blueberry Poppy Seed Brunch Cake

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Brie and Brisket Tacos (adapted from Rebecca Rather’s Pastry Queen via Confections of a Foodie Bride)

Serves 4, with leftover brisket

No one seems to brown brisket. I don’t know why that is, but I browned mine.

Brisket:
1 tablespoon canola or vegetable oil
1 (3-pound) brisket
salt
ground black pepper
1 tablespoon chili powder
3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed through a garlic press
1 (12-ounce) medium-dark beer
2 tablespoons honey

Raspberry chipotle barbecue sauce:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed through a garlic press
½ cup ketchup
1 chipotle chile in adobe sauce, minced
2 tablespoons lemon juice
¼ cup raspberries, fresh or frozen
1½ tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1½ teaspoons dijon mustard
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper

Toppings:
12 corn tortillas, warmed
4 ounces brie, thinly sliced
1 cup (4 ounces) Monterey jack cheese

1. For the brisket: Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Heat the oil in a 5-quart Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Pat the meat dry, season it generously with salt, pepper, and the chili powder. Transfer the brisket to the Dutch oven and cook, without moving, for about 3 minutes, until deeply browned. Flip and brown the second side. Transfer the meat to a plate. Discard any fat in the pan (but leave the cooked-on brown bits).

2. Add the garlic to the pan and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Pour the beer into the pot, scraping up the sticky brown bits on the bottom of the pot. Stir in the honey, then add the meat. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Cover the Dutch oven and transfer it to the oven. Cook for 3 hours, turning every hour or so.

3. For the sauce: In a medium saucepan over medium heat, heat the oil until it runs like water when the pan is tilted. Add the onion; cook, stirring occasionally, until it just starts to brown around the edges, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the ketchup, chile, lemon juice, raspberries, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, salt, and pepper. Bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook for 10 minutes. Puree, either with an immersion blender in the saucepan or by transferring the sauce to a blender.

4. When the brisket is tender, either slice it or shred it, leaving behind large chunks of fat. Layer brisket, sauce, brie, and Monterey jack cheese in the tortillas (plus Hatch green chile and avocado if you can’t imagine tacos with them). Serve immediately.

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green pig macarons (green tea macarons with vanilla bean swiss meringue buttercream)

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These might have come out okay in the end, but it was looking bleak at first – and in the middle, and even a bit toward the end. I might have been overly confident when I agreed to make shaped macarons, with just one previous attempt at the notoriously finicky cookie. To make matters worse, the inspiration blog entry was written in Hebrew.

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I’m not the first person to make shaped macarons, but most people are using the traditional method for macarons, the one I used last year, in which egg whites are beaten with granulated sugar until stiff peaks form, then almond meal and powdered sugar are folded into the mixture. It’s fussy – the egg whites need to be aged overnight, just the right amount of folding is necessary to deflate the meringue just so, and the piped batter needs to sit at room temperature for an hour before baking. Annie promised to have a simpler, more dependable method, and I wanted to try it.

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In this method, half of the egg whites are mixed into the almond meal and powdered sugar; the other half are whipped into a meringue with hot sugar syrup, then folded into the pasty almond meal mixture. The cookies are piped and baked immediately.

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It sounded simple enough, but things started going wrong early on. First I ran out of almond meal, which I discovered after I’d measured out egg whites, sugar, and water to the gram. I had some slivered (not blanched; they still had skins) almonds in the pantry, so I ground those up and mixed them into the batter. One obstacle was overcome.

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My next mistake was adding too much of the meringue mixture to the almond meal mixture. You’re only supposed to add as much of the meringue mixture for “thick ribbons to batter to run off the spatula”, but that required all of the meringue for me, and at that point, the batter was too loose, and the cookies spread when I piped them.

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My next problem – there was always a next problem on this particular day – was trying to get the nose and ears on top of the main body of the cookie. Eventually I found that the best method seemed to be baking the plain macarons for the specified time, then piping the nose and ears on the firm surface of the cookie and rebaking them for a few minutes until the smaller portions set. The cookies seemed no worse for the extra time in the oven.

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It’s a good thing that the Angry Birds pigs aren’t pristine shapes even in their original format on the game, because my cookies were anything but round, with ears of indeterminate size and shape. Sometimes the ears blended right into the rest of the cookie; sometimes the noses caved in. And by this point, my kitchen was covered in macaron batter, which, by the way, turns into concrete when it dries, and my bread dough was overrising while seemingly infinite batches of macarons hogged the oven.

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The piggie faces, thankfully, were mostly saved by the addition of nostrils and pupils. Eyebrowns drawn on with a edible marker didn’t hurt either. And I think it speaks volumes about the dependability of this recipe that with all my foibles, the macarons rose enough to somewhat form those elusive foamy feet. (Not that my troubles were completely over.) But while they might not be as pristine as I had intended, the 6-year-old birthday boy didn’t seem to mind. I’m going to call this kitchen battle conquered, though it wasn’t easy.

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One year ago: Chocolate Sugar Cookies
Two years ago: Fettuccini Alfredo
Three years ago: Toasted Vegetable Subs
Four years ago: Red Velvet Cake (comparison of 5 recipes)
Five years ago: Vanilla Frosting (comparison of 4 recipes)

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Green Pig Macarons (Green Tea Macarons with Vanilla Bean Swiss Meringue Buttercream) (adapted from Thomas Keller and Sebastien Rouxel’s Bouchon Bakery via Annie’s Eats)

Makes 24 sandwich cookies

The very small amounts of almond meal, powdered sugar, and egg whites are for the white eyes. If you’re just making regular green tea macarons, you can skip that.

Where I went wrong with the batter was adding too much meringue. Once I got to the point where I had thick ribbons of batter, it was definitely too much meringue and the batter was too loose, spreading on the baking sheet. All I can recommend to correct this, until I gain more experience with macaron-making, is that you watch for VERY thick ribbons of batter falling off the spatula.

Green tea cookies:
212 grams almond meal, plus 16 grams
212 grams powdered sugar, plus 16 grams
1½ teaspoons matcha powder
82 and 90 grams egg whites, plus 6 grams (about 6 eggs total)
236 grams granulated sugar, plus ¼ teaspoon
158 grams water

Vanilla bean buttercream:
2 egg whites
½ cup (3.5 ounces) granulated sugar (vanilla sugar if you have it)
pinch table salt
12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
seeds from ½ vanilla bean
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. For the cookies: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and place a rack in the middle of the oven. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Fit one pastry bag with a ½-inch round tip and two with ¼-inch round tips (for the white eyes and the green ears and nose).

2. In a large bowl, combine the 212 grams almond meal, 212 grams powdered sugar, and matcha powder. Whisk together to blend and break up any clumps. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in 82 grams of the egg whites. Blend the egg whites into the dry ingredients until evenly mixed. The mixture will be thick and paste-like. For the white eyes, in a small bowl, mix together the 16 grams of powdered sugar, 16 grams of almond meal, and 6 grams of egg whites.

3. Combine 236 grams granulated sugar and the water in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. When the temperature is around 210 degrees, combine the 90 gram portion of egg whites with ¼ teaspoon sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Begin whipping on medium-low speed. Continue whipping the whites on medium speed until they form soft peaks. If soft peaks are achieved before the syrup reaches the target temperature, reduce the speed to low to keep the whites moving.

4. Once the syrup reaches 248 degrees, immediately remove it from the heat. Increase the mixer speed to medium and pour the syrup down the side of the bowl in a slow drizzle until fully incorporated. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and whip the meringue until stiff, glossy peaks form.

5. Add one third of the meringue mixture to the bowl with the almond mixture with the matcha. Fold in gently until the mixture is smooth. A bit at a time, gently fold in the remaining meringue until the batter is smooth and runs in thick ribbons off of the spatula. You may not need all of the meringue, so add it gradually. Repeat the process with the white batter.

6. Add most of the green batter to the pastry bag with the ½-inch tip. Hold the bag perpendicular to the baking sheet about ½-inch above the surface of the pan. Steadily pipe rounds about 1¼- to 1½-inches in diameter. The batter may create small peaks immediately after piping, but if it is the correct texture these will smooth themselves away after a minute or two. If the batter is too stiff, the peaks will remain and the tops of the shells may not be totally smooth. If the batter is too thin, the rounds will spread further.

7. For the ears: Transfer some green batter to a piping bag with a ¼-inch tip. Pipe small ears adjacent to the larger circles of batter.

8. Transfer the baking sheet to the oven and immediately reduce the temperature to 325 degrees. Bake for 9-12 minutes, until the tops are smooth and set and “feet” have formed around the bottom.

9. Transfer the white batter to a piping bag with an ⅛-inch tip. Remove the baked cookies from the oven and immediately pipe on a green nose in the middle of the circle and 2 white eyes to the side of the nose. Return the cookies to the oven for 3-4 minutes, until the nose and eyes are set. Add noses and eyes only to every other batch; the backs of the sandwiches will just need ears.

10. Transfer the baking sheet with the cookies to a cooling rack; cool 5 minutes, then peel the cookies away from the parchment and transfer to a cooling rack. Repeat as needed with the remaining batter, replacing the parchment paper with each batch, bringing the oven temperature back up to 350 degrees before baking each sheet.

11. For the buttercream: In the bowl of a stand mixer (or a large bowl if using a hand-held mixer), combine the egg whites, sugar, and salt. Set the bowl over a pot of simmering water, making sure the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water. Whisk constantly until the mixture reaches 160 degrees.

12. Fit the mixer with the whisk attachment; beat the egg white mixture on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form and it has cooled to room temperature, about 8 minutes. Reduce the mixer speed to medium and add the butter 2 tablespoons at a time, adding more once each addition has been incorporated. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and beat until the buttercream is thick and smooth, 3-5 minutes. Add the vanilla seeds and extract; mix until incorporated.

13. To assemble: Pipe the buttercream onto the flat sides of half of the cookies. Top with the remaining cookies. Serve immediately or cover and store overnight in the refrigerator (bring to cool room temperature before serving).

Thirteen steps, and I forgot to tell you how to make the project-saving eyes and nostrils. Powdered sugar + milk + food coloring, stirred until smooth and dripped off the end of a toothpick.  Tedious, but it got the job done.

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cinnamon macarons with apple buttercream

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Macarons have been all the rage recently, and yet, I’ve had no real desire to make them myself. This, even though they’re known to be finicky, and I do love making my life unnecessarily complicated. But while I do love a challenge, I don’t particularly love meringue cookies.

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This is probably because I’ve never gotten them quite right, as they always seem to be chewy in the center instead of crisp the whole way through. Maybe the precise directions included with many macaron recipes could help me avoid this pitfall. If not, at least they’d be filled with swiss meringue buttercream.

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One of the hallmarks of good macarons is the foamy feet around the bottom edge, which show that your macarons rose up in the oven instead of spreading out. When I started to see those feet form, I made Dave come over to look through the oven window with me and give me a high-five. I was also happy with the smooth tops of the cookies, and it goes without saying that I was happy with the apple buttercream, which was noticeably and pleasantly appley.

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The only problem? A chewy center. I guess practice makes perfect. Fortunately, I think it’s safe to say that meringues are good enough to make again.

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One year ago: Butternut Squash Risotto
Two years ago: Pomegranate Glazed Salmon
Three years ago: Sun-Dried Tomato Jam
Four years ago: Sushi Bowls

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Cinnamon Macarons with Apple Buttercream (adapted from Tartelette)

Makes about 20 sandwich cookies

For a lot of meringue-making tips, read Tartelette’s article.

Meringues:
110 grams blanched almonds or almond meal
200 grams powdered sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
100 grams egg whites (from about 3 large eggs), aged overnight
25 grams sugar
Pinch salt

Apple buttercream:
4 egg whites
1¼ cups (8.75 ounces) granulated sugar
Pinch salt
24 tablespoons (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
⅓ cup apple butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. In a food processor, process the almonds and powdered sugar until the nuts are finely ground. In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or a large bowl with a handheld mixer), beat the egg whites, sugar, and salt on medium-high speed (high speed if using a stand mixer) until soft peaks form. Use a large rubber spatula to fold the nut mixture into the egg mixture. After about 50 folds, the batter should be evenly mixed, with no streaks of egg white.

2. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats. Spray the lined sheets lightly with cooking spray. Transfer the batter to a piping bag fitted with a wide (about ½-inch) round tip. Pipe quarter-sized rounds onto the prepared pans, leaving about an inch between rounds. Gently rap the baking sheet against the counter to pop any large bubbles. Set the piped dough aside for 1 hour.

3. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 300 degrees. Bake one sheet at a time until the cookies are lightly browned around the bottom edges, about 15 minutes. Transfer the baking sheet to a wire rack; cool for about 5 minutes, then use a thin spatula to transfer the cookies from the pan to the wire rack. Cool completely before filling.

4. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or a large bowl if using a hand-held mixer), combine the egg whites, sugar, and salt. Set the bowl over a pot of simmering water, making sure the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water. Whisk constantly until the mixture reaches 160 degrees.

5. Fit the mixer with the whisk attachment; beat the egg white mixture on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form and it has cooled to room temperature, about 8 minutes. Reduce the mixer speed to medium and add the butter 2 tablespoons at a time, adding more once each addition has been incorporated. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and beat until the buttercream is thick and smooth, 3-5 minutes. Add apple butter and vanilla; mix until incorporated.

6. Pipe the buttercream onto the flat sides of half of the cookies.  Top with the remaining cookies.  Serve immediately or cover and store overnight in the refrigerator (bring to cool room temperature before serving).

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gougeres

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My list of 2012 goals isn’t going too well. I’m keeping up, for the most part (although it has not escaped my attention that the date on this April entry is May 1st), but I haven’t had great successes with all of the recipes. January started off strong, with the lettuce wraps and black bean brownies – which I even made far enough before the deadline that I could try them again with some changes. I was also happy with the ranch dressing.

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But then things started going downhill. The fancy rice krispy treats fell victim to my refusal to go back to the store for a missing ingredient; the mozzarella got skipped entirely while I search for the right type of milk; the dolmades tasted good but mostly fell apart; and the gougères? I suppose they had the opposite problem. They look just fine – puffy and golden – but they were sadly lacking in cheese flavor.

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And so, I’m writing this down so I don’t forget: Stop buying the Gruyere sold in this little town. I did this once before and didn’t learn my lesson then. It has the fancy label, but it tastes like wax.

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So maybe this wasn’t my greatest cooking success, although at least it wasn’t a huge fail – they look nice, after all. And as an added bonus, I realized that I’ve already made a recipe that, while it didn’t hold the title of gougères, is nearly the same thing made with cheddar and green onions. I guess I could have checked this one off the list of goals years ago! Maybe this list isn’t going so badly after all.

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One year ago: Fig-Glazed Burgers with Onion Jam
Two years ago: Home Corned Beef
Three years ago: Chocolate Cream Tart
Four years ago: Fluted Polenta and Ricotta Cake

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Gougères (reworded slightly from David Lebovitz)

Makes 24-30

I was paranoid about my eggs cooking in the hot saucepan before they could be incorporated into the dough, so I transferred the flour mixture to another bowl before adding the eggs.

½ cup water
3 tablespoons butter, cut into cubes
¼ teaspoon salt
big pinch of chile powder, or a few turns of freshly-ground black pepper
½ cup (2.4 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
¾ cup (about 3 ounces) grated gruyere, or another hard cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

2. Heat the water, butter, salt, and chile or pepper in a saucepan until the butter is melted. Add the flour all at once and stir vigorously until the mixture pulls away from the sides of the pot into a smooth ball. Remove from heat and let rest two minutes.

3. Add the eggs, one at a time, whisking constantly. The batter will first appear lumpy, but after a minute or so, it will smooth out. Add most of the grated cheese, reserving some for topping; stir until well-mixed.

4. Scrape the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a wide plain tip and pipe the dough into mounds, evenly-spaced apart, making each about the size of a small cherry tomato. (You can also divide the dough into mounds using two spoons.) Top each puff with a bit of the remaining cheese.

5. Bake for 10 minutes, then turn the oven down to 375 degrees; bake for an additional 20 to 25 minutes, until the gougeres are golden brown. Serve warm.

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yogurt hollandaise

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I am totally fascinated by emulsions, those silky mixtures of water-based liquids and fat. I’d love to claim this has something to do with my chemistry background and an interest in immiscible liquids and amphiphilic molecules, but, in truth, I think it’s because I like the creamy rich mixtures that result. I love mayonnaise, an emulsion of oil and vinegar; vinaigrettes, in which mustard holds the oil and vinegar together, although not as well as the egg yolks in mayonnaise; and even cake batters, in which a few egg yolks work to hold the butter and milk (or whatever liquid) together, and have such trouble doing it that the ingredients need to be as close in temperature as possible to prevent curdling.

Hollandaise, an emulsion of butter and lemon juice, again held together by egg yolks (the kitchen’s favorite emulsifier), isn’t my thing though. It isn’t that I don’t like it – what isn’t to like, other than blowing your entire day’s worth of calories for breakfast? It’s just that I don’t see the point, when my old favorite pretend-fattening ingredient, Greek yogurt, does such a good job of mimicking the richness of traditional hollandaise.

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You still add egg yolks to make the sauce silky smooth, and this yogurt-based sauce has all the same flavorings as a full-fat version, with the lemon juice, salt, and spice (hot sauce here instead of cayenne powder). A pinch of sugar and tiny squeeze of mustard round out the flavors. And in the spirit of being healthier but maybe not perfectly healthy, I usually stir some tiny cubes of butter into the sauce to add richness.

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There’s no question that the main advantage of this sauce over traditional hollandaise is that you’re not pouring nearly pure butter over your eggs. But it doesn’t hurt that it’s easier and less finicky either, requiring nothing more than a quick whisk over a double boiler, with no worries about the emulsion breaking. I guess I like fake emulsions just as much as real ones.

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One year ago: Yellow Cake (comparison of 3 recipes)
Two years ago: Rich Katz’s brownies for Julia Child
Three years ago: Red Velvet Cake (comparison of 5 recipes)
Four years ago: Salmon Pesto Pasta

Printer Friendly Recipe
Yogurt Hollandaise (adapted from Fine Cooking and A Food Centric Life)

Enough for 6 servings of eggs benedict

You can use any fat level of Greek yogurt you like. I always use low-fat, because that’s the easiest to find where I live.

Sometimes I also add a tablespoon of butter, cut into small cubes, and heat it with the other ingredients.

I didn’t make traditional eggs Benedict; I topped my English muffins with green chile, avocado, poached eggs, and hollandaise.

¾ cup plain Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
3 egg yolks
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
¼ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon granulated sugar
pinch of white pepper
dash hot Tabasco sauce

1. In the top of a double boiler or a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water, whisk together the yogurt, lemon juice, egg yolks, mustard, salt, sugar, pepper and Tabasco sauce.

2. Cook over simmering water, stirring constantly, until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, 6 to 8 minutes. (The sauce can be set aside at room temperature for up to 1 hour; reheat gently in double boiler.)

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earl grey madeleines

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Coffee makes me feel like bees are buzzing in my head, so I save it for the weekends. At work, I stick to tea, and I’ve developed a little ritual with my electric kettle, collection of looseleaf teas, and steeper that drips from below when I set it onto my mug. I’m picky about my teas too; I don’t like any teas with weird fruity flavors, and I prefer my black tea with some bitter bite to it.

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I like Earl Gray tea, but it can’t be too orangey. I once bought one that tasted like a creamsicle, and I threw the whole tin away. Rishi makes my favorite black tea, but their Earl Grey is too strong for me. For months, I’ve been mixing Rishi Earl Grey tea leaves with another black tea I have that isn’t as bitter as I like. My morning mug of tea is an art.

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Overly strong tea leaves are perfect for putting into dessert though, where they have to battle to be noticed past the sugar and butter. The batter for these madeleines smelled and tasted noticeably of Earl Grey, but the flavor was muted once baked. They smelled more tea-y than they tasted. Clearly, the perfect way to really taste your Earl Grey with your Earl Grey madeleines is to have a mug of tea alongside your tea cake.

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Nicole chose these madeleines for Tuesdays with Dorie and has the recipe posted. Watch them carefully if you make them! I baked mine for 9 minutes, and it was definitely too long.

One year ago: Maple Tuiles
Two years ago: All-Occasion Sugar Cookies
Three years ago: Rosy Poached Pear and Pistachio Tart

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normandy apple tart

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There seems to be a misconception among some people that I have my act together. Something like this tart, with its carefully arranged apple slices, presents an image of someone organized and calm and productive. Who knows – they might even think that I regularly clean my bathrooms.

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The truth is that I forgot about the apples while they were cooking down into sauce and was lucky that there was no harm done. The truth is that I sliced and arranged the topping while singing Chicago hits (you’re the inspiration!) and drinking champagne late Sunday night when I should have been getting ready for bed.

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I took the tart out of the oven long after my normal bed time. Then my hand slipped and mussed the carefully arranged apples and scalloped edge. The truth is that photographing the tart Monday morning made me even later for work than usual.

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Maybe the moral of the story is that even if you’re just fumbling through, things will probably turn out just fine. You can use two forks to carefully unmuss your carefully arranged apple slices. You can eat the broken edge first. And none of those surficial imperfections spoiled how incredible this tart tasted, with the apples in the sauce adding a bright contrast to the sweet browned apples on top. This tart, Chicago’s greatest hits, and champagne were worth staying up for – even if it means that any image of me having it all together is just smoke and mirrors.

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Tracey chose this tart for Tuesdays with Dorie, and she has the full recipe posted.  I followed it exactly, except, remembering a Cook’s Illustrated testing of applesauce and how the version with a pinch of salt was the favorite, I was sure to add a smidgen of salt to my sauce as well.

One year ago: Devilish Shortcakes
Two years ago: All-in-One Holiday Bundt
Three years ago: Linzer Sables

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cranberry apple brandy

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When I was simmering sugar syrup, smashing fruit, and measuring alcohol for these cocktails, my mom made the excellent point that opening a bottle of wine is a heck of a lot easier. And while I appreciate how wine compliments food and how beer signals relaxation, I love cocktails too. Cocktails are special. They mean fun and celebration. You can’t help but be happy when enjoying a cocktail with friends and family. And that’s why they’re worth the trouble.

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This one takes more work than the citrus squeezing, liquor measuring, and syrup simmering of my favorite vodka gimlets and magaritas, as apples need to be sliced, then crushed along with cranberries before the liquor and syrup are stirred in – and that’s in addition to the squeezing, measuring, and mixing of citrus, liquor, and syrup, respectively.

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It’s a strong drink, undoubtedly, as it is mostly brandy.  But it has all of the ingredients in a good apple dessert – sugar, a touch of citrus to brighten the flavors, cranberries in case you needed another reminder that it’s the end of fall and the beginning of winter.  Fortunately, that’s just the time for celebrations worthy of the trouble involved with mixing up a seasonal cocktail.

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One year ago: Cranberry Apple Galette
Two years ago: Carne Adovada
Three years ago: Baked Eggs with Spinach and Mushrooms

Printer Friendly Recipe
The Normandy
(from The Essential New York Times Cookbook by Amanda Hesser)

Serves 1

9 cranberries
2 thin slices green apple
1 teaspoon dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon simple syrup
2 ounces Calvados or other good-quality apple brandy

Combine 6 cranberries, 1 apple slice, the brown sugar, and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker and muddle (crush with a muddler or the back of a wooden spoon). Add the simple syrup, Calvados, and a few ice cubes, cover, and shake well. Strain into a rocks glass filled with ice and garnish with the remaining 3 cranberries and apple slice.

alsatian apple tart

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I recently congratulated myself on having become more practical now that I’m older and then almost immediately had to call my own BS. I tried to think of one example of having taken the more practical route lately and came up blank. My tendency to go overboard nearly always wins.

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Just to prove that I can, indeed, tone things down, I kept myself from perfecting the edges of my pastry cloth that always get crinkled after washing. Also, I only rearranged the apple slices on this tart once when they didn’t look the way I’d hoped. Even then, it wasn’t perfect, and I had at least a third of the apple slices leftover, but I had to move on with my evening.

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In the end, I think the tart came out very nicely. It’s pretty and it’s tasty. But. I think with the rest of the apples, it would have been even better – a little more tart to balance the sweet custard, and the apple slice design would have stood out more. I have to admit though, the difference isn’t so significant to make the time it would have taken to perfect it worthwhile. Sometimes, good enough is just fine.

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Jessica chose this tart for Tuesdays with Dorie, and she has the recipe posted. The recipe indicates that the tart will need to bake for 50-55 minutes, but mine was done around 35 minutes. The shorter time could be because it wasn’t as full, or it’s possible that I should have left it in the oven until the custard started to brown.

Two years ago: Alice Water’s Apple Tart
Three years ago: Basic Mashed Potatoes

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brown sugar honey madeleines

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My poor madeleine pan doesn’t get a lot of use. I love it; I got it for Christmas years ago, and seeing it in the cabinet has always made me happy. But I seldom bake with it.

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There’s no good reason for this, because I love madeleines. They’re miniature handheld cakes. The batter is easy to mix up. They look fancy with no extra effort on my part. There are endless variations to experiment with. I think I just convinced myself to like madeleines more than cupcakes.

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It’s possible that it’s just this recipe I love so much, with its brown sugar caramel notes. I wouldn’t know, since my only experience with traditional madeleines was years ago and a very qualified success at best. Clearly I need to try that recipe for madeleines again – and many more.

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Di chose this recipe for Tuesdays with Dorie, and she has it posted. It’s originally designed for a mini madeleine pan, but considering how rarely I use my regular madeleine pan, I think a mini version is the last thing I need. I just added a couple minutes to the baking time recommended for minis. I had a difficult time prying the cakes out of the pan, even though it’s nonstick and I sprayed it with cooking spray. Next time I’ll give it a more thorough spritz of floury baking spray.

One year ago: Cranberry Shortbread Cake
Two years ago: Chocolate Caramel Chestnut Cake
Three years ago: Kugelhopf

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