Thursday, October 9, 2014

better chocolate babka

new chocolate babkas + impatient kindergartener feet

Inadvertently, this has become Festivus week on Smitten Kitchen, wherein I air my grievances at past recipes and exhibit what I hope can be passed off as “feats of strength” in reformulating them for modern times. Still, nobody could more surprised than I am that of all the recipes in the archives, it’s Martha Stewart’s decadent chocolate babkas from seven years ago that have ended up in this queue, because at the time we found them beyond reproach: rich, buttery, crumbly and intensely chocolaty. They were precisely what we’d remembered getting from the store growing up, but better, I mean, I’d hope they’d be. Clocking in at 3/4 pound of semisweet chocolate and almost a cup of butter per loaf, the recipe in fact uses triple this (2.25 pounds of chocolate! 1.25 pounds of butter!) for three loaves. And not unlike the chicken pot pies, this, along with the messy, complicated prep, became the problem. Despite repeated requests from our families every holiday, I’ve probably only made it once since, if that. It’s all too much.

the dough, after overnighting in the fridge
rolling out chilled dough is easier

This high holiday season, however, I decided to audition a different chocolate babka — the stunning, twisty, glossy chocolate krantz cakes that I imagine have tempted anyone that’s opened Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem cookbook. Although I was curious, I knew there was no way they could be as good. How could they be, what with only 2 1/4 ounces of dark chocolate and just over 1/2 cup of butter per loaf? It was going to taste abstemious, and wrong. Abstemious chocolate babka is wrong, wrong on a moral-ethical level, as far as I’m concerned.

melted chocolate to make paste

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Monday, October 6, 2014

better chicken pot pies

better chicken pot pies

There are over 900 recipes in this site’s archives, [which is completely nuts, but also conveniently gives me an answer to the ever-present "what do you do all day?" question besides my usual, "mess around on Instagram?"] and while I’m overwhelmingly quite fond of all of them, there are ones that nag at me not necessarily because they don’t work but because they’re not, in hindsight, the “best in category” I once found them to be. Among these are the chicken pot pies I made from Ina Garten’s beloved recipe six years ago, and somewhere, my friend Ang is gasping because these are, to date, her favorite thing I’ve ever made for dinner. But I always thought they could have been better for several persnickety reasons.

making the flaky pastry lids
chilled dough, quartered

First, instead of braising the chicken in that delicious veloué sauce you’re making, Ina has us roast chicken breast until they’re fully cooked, cool them, dice them and then add them to the sauce. But why? I asked Ina, but my book didn’t answer. That’s not the only extra step. Vegetables such as carrots, peas and those persnickety pearl onions are each blanched for two minutes in water before being added to the pot pie base, which baffled me even then. Why not just cook them in that finger-licking stew, too, and let them drink up all that awesomeness? My third quibble with the recipe is that for four servings of pot pie, the soup part alone uses 12 tablespoons (that’s 3/4 cup or 170 grams; it does not include the additional cup of butter used for the four pastry lids) of butter, and guys, I think it’s been fairly well established, perhaps even 900 times, my fondness for butter, but this is just … I cannot. When I created my own anything-but-abstemious pot pie recipe a few years ago for my cookbook, my filling only need 3 1/2 tablespoons butter for four portions to give you a nice rich sauce. Finally, I’d found that the sauce didn’t thicken well but assumed I’d done something wrong. A scroll through the comments that have arrived since indicates that it’s not just me.

browning the chicken parts

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Thursday, October 2, 2014

the crispy egg

the crispy egg

I have spent most of my egg-eating life doing everything in my culinary power to avoid getting texture of any kind on my eggs. Even the smallest amount of a wire-like edge to a firm-cooked white made me want to run, so when I’d cook eggs, I’d opt for any method that didn’t involve a frying pan. Hard-boiled? Good. Scrambled? Better. Soft-boiled, peeled and smashed? Oh yes. Poached? Yeah we can.

crispy egg, dropped into piping hot skillet
crispy egg, blowing up in the pan

And then a month or so ago I started following Frank Prisinzano, a restaurateur in my neighborhood on Instagram, a man that is unwaveringly obsessed with both eating and writing about crispy eggs. “The eggs should almost explode in the hot oil, the white should soufflé around the yolk” he writes, “the bottom should form a crispy crust hard enough that you can remove the egg from a normal pan with just a little scraping and shimmying.” You should eat it immediately, “like a steak,” showered with sea salt, pepper flakes, herbs or spices of your choosing.

crispy egg, ta-da

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Monday, September 29, 2014

latke waffles

latke waffles

If you’re anything like me — someone who begins each workday with grand ambitious to be startlingly productive, but finds themselves at 4 p.m. most days aimlessly clicking random links shared on social media, trying not to nod off onto their keyboard and wondering if there’s maybe any chocolate anywhere? — you may have found yourself a few weeks ago on that day’s viral food content du jour, an enticing recipe for tater tot waffles.

what you'll need, plus egg, flour, salt, pepper
tubers

What could be more delicious than tater tot waffles? Nothing, nope, nada. But it lost me when it called for a bag of frozen tots smashed onto a waffle iron, not because it wouldn’t be delicious or because I have any opposition to frozen tater tots, but because if I ever crossed a bag of them in a dark galley kitchen, the last thing I’d want to do is mash them into something no longer recognizably tot. Essentially, it’s all about the wee cylinder shape for me.

put in a strainer, dishtowel or cheesecloth

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Monday, September 22, 2014

sunken apple and honey cake

sunken apple and honey cake

There are recipes on my Cook This list that I’ve been plotting for years but take forever to jump from that place where they’re a rough idea of how I think something might taste good and how I’ll make that happen. There are items on the list which are just the names of dishes I haven’t tried yet and want to learn more about. And there are recipes that make me kick myself every time I see them because how have we not made a good hearty tortilla soup here yet? And where is that Russian napoleon I’ve been promising you? But this here is none of the above. Exactly one month ago, someone emailed me (hi Angela!) and asked if I had ever made a German Sunken Apple Cake [which sounds even cooler in its native language: Versunkener Apfelkuchen] and I had barely finished reading the email before I had a new tab open because I had to immediately know what it was.

four deceptively tiny apples
peeled, halved, cored

What it was is adorable. Seriously, it’s relentlessly cute. Small apples are peeled, halved, cored and then scored and arranged rump-up on a buttery cake base and in the oven, the cake begins to creep up around them and the apples fan out like accordions and the whole thing is so golden, dimpled and lovely that I abandoned all hopes, plans to do anything else until I could make this happen. (Perhaps predictably, this still took three weeks.)

many slices, but don't cut through

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