31 December 2010

one mean, cast-iron bastard

Just a quick update on Christmas week's activities:

Flammkuchen. Thanks to my baking stone, they now come out very close to perfect.

Note to myself: fresh baker's yeast is more active than dired yeast. Much more active.

Currently on my list of things to learn: making croissants from scratch. They already taste gorgeous, but only look good until baked. Need much more training.

This year, Santa brought me a paella pan. One mean, cast-iron bastard of a paella pan, and I couldn't be happier. Recipe coming soon.

To all of you, I hope you've had a wonderful Christmas and the coming year will be full of joy, health and inspiration!

12 December 2010

a dark, unctuous wave

A few weeks ago, on a Spanish island, in an Italian restaurant, I had one of the best classic French desserts that I've had in my whole life.

And it had been a surprising evening all together already. We arrived too early (on vacation, we're early diners) and yet the staff was entirely charming and precise about when they would open. Which is not the usual way of doing business there, I have to add.
Despite the terribly touristy location at the heart of the fake 'old town centre' of Costa Teguise, the food was even better than what the staff had led us to hope. And when they insisted on the 'chocolate soufflé' being entirely house made, it wasn't really hard to convince me to order one despite already being close to bursting.

And, boy, what a luck I did.

Being used to the rather 'freestyle' translations of food on menus in Spain, I didn't actually expect a 'soufflé au chocolat', as defined by definitely not containing any flour. But the smallish chocolate cake on a huge plate that was put in front of me still smelled so good it made me grin like a four year old.

The real surprise, though, came right when I dug in my spoon and a dark, unctuous wave of molten chocolaty stuff flooded my plate.

Instantly, I was transported back to Paris, where the 'moelleux chocolat au coeur fondant' seems to be a basically canonized part of every menu. (When you're eating French, that is.) Having been to Paris countless times (and loved the food there almost as much as in the Perigord), this little cake triggered what felt like a million delicious memories. And it actually tasted as good as any of them.

Naturally, one of the first things I did when coming home was trying to figure out how to make these. Much to my profound surpise, they're almost embarassingly simple to make. The dough is whipped up in no time, they just need a few minutes in the oven and I am yet to find someone who doesn't love them.

The only drawback is that I still have to figure out a way to embed the preparation into a larger menu. So far, I've only had 'perfect' results when I baked them right after mixing. But on the other hand, it doesn't take much longer to mix and bake them than it takes to clean a table, so what. I'll probably just insert a course of cheeses and be done with the problem.

But one thing is for sure - I'll be making them often, and regularly, for my wife, or my friends or even just for myself, because they're a little piece of heaven in a cup.

moelleux chocolat au coeur fondant
(soft chocolate cake with liquid core)
(makes two small or four tiny portions)

50g dark, low-sugar chocolate (Herrenschokolade)
50g butter

two eggs
40g sugar

15g flour
30g ground almonds
10g cocoa powder (dutch process)

butter and flour for the forms

Preheat the oven to 200°C.

Gently melt the butter with the chocolate, allowing the mix to cool a little until it barely feels warm against the lips.

In a high bowl, mix the eggs with the sugar until pale and frothy. (soft peaks)

Combine the dry ingredients in a separate bowl and mix until well combined.
Is it just me or does it feel distinctively weird to measure so little flour?

Add both the molten chocolate and the flour / almond mix to the eggs and swiftly fold in, stirring as little as possible to retain the air.

Lightly butter and flour two small ramekins (about 8cm in diameter) or four espresso cups.
Make sure to carefully shake off excessive flour, or your cakes will look a little dusty. Supposedly, yo can unmold the cakes after baking, but honestly I've never dared to risk them in that way. I just took pretty cups instead.

Fill the batter into the prepared cups / ramekins. Only fill the forms until about two-third of their height, as the cake will rise impressively.

Bake for 5 to 8 minutes, depending a) on the size of your cakes (the smaller the faster) and b) how liquid you want them to be.
Those espresso cups pictured, for example, felt all but liquid after five minutes and were done all the way through verging on dry after eight. It'll take some attempts to get it right, but as the warm, liquid dough is pretty delicious in itself, I'd say rather err on too little time than too much. 

Serve immediately or at least warm. Can perfectly well stand alone but pairs well with anything else you would usually put next to a chocolate cake.
Next time, I'll try and put a boozy cherry in the bottom of each cup, or a spoonful of vanilla ice cream. Should really make for a nice surprise. 

07 December 2010

this time of the year - part seven

What would a year be without the annual cookie craze? Not the same, I swear. So this year, we had a plain lineup of beloved classics, as we didn't really want to go all crazy on this.

But have a look:

First, the Pfefferkuchen, which turned out really, really good this year. One more iteration and I'll be ready to post an updated, much refined recipe here.

Second, plain 'black-and-white' cookies. Hardly noteworthy but for the admittedly pretty pattern that (accidentally) came up this year.

Third, coconut macarons. Not to be confused with the fickle french ones. These are slightly homely, crisp on the outside, chewy inside, easy to make and plain delicious.

Fourth - butter cookies. Like the french sablés, just a little more butter an sugar. These were gone so fast that I had to make another double batch right the following weekend.

The second batch of butter cookies, above. I didn't really have the mind to bother with different cookie shapes, so I just made those I like best and were easiest to handle. And they look pretty on the cooling rack, don't they?

And of course, last but not least, the Stollen. Very aromatic and moist this year, but oddly enough, the thick layer of icing sugar doesn't want to stick to the loaf properly. But that's not a real flaw, it only makes for rather messy eating.

Anyway, if the holidays pass as smoothly as the preparations so far, it'll be a lovely Christmas this year.