Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Recipe Notes: December 2016

11 December 2016

Easy Vegetarian Bean Chili

Recipe from America's Test Kitchen

For a busy winter weekend a simple chili, that I could make in advance, is a good choice. We had vegetarian company so I needed to find vegetarian chili. Searching on the America's Test Kitchen web site led to a promising recipe which I was able to make a day ahead, ready to eat when we needed it.

Making the chili was straightforward and took about 55 minutes. I used a combination of red kidney and pinto beans from the choices recommended in the recipe. These were combined with pureed tomatoes, canned diced tomatoes were pureed in a food processor. The spices include chili powder and cumin with onions and garlic added. The recipe also specified 2-3 teaspoons of minced chipotle chilis in adobo sauce; I used two chipotle chilis. Some frozen corn finishes the dish, and I skipped adding 2 tablespoons of minced fresh cilantro.

When it was "fresh" the chili was pretty spicy, perhaps too spicy for our taste, but it mellowed in the refrigerator and was not too hot when we had it for dinner. We liked the chili. It was a little lighter, perhaps, than a meaty chili and that is OK. I would make this again when we wanted a lighter chili. I would plan to make it in advance to let the spices mellow. To my eyes the chili is not only vegetarian but qualifies as vegan, too.

23 December 2016

Chocolate Financiers

Recipe from Cook's Science

Cook's Science is the newest brand from America's Test Kitchen. I subscribe to their newsletter and this recipe was included in a recent edition. I am not familiar with "financier" but they looked good and not too hard to make, so I gave them a try.

Making 12 financiers only took an hour or so and they were ready to eat, still warm, after only a brief time to cool. They are made with almond flour (which I bought at the supermarket) and egg whites, rather than whole eggs. The other ingredients, including some wheat flour, unsweetened chocolate, Dutch processed cocoa, and a generous quantity of butter, are pretty standard. All mixing is done by hand. The recipe is available in units that American cooks are accustomed to, but you can also use a recipe with the ingredient quantities all as weights, in grams, which is what I enjoyed using.

The finished financiers are very good! They're like a brownie with a lot of chocolate flavor. However, they are much lighter than a brownie, due, I suspect, to the use of almond flour and the absence of egg yolks. We ate them fresh (the best!), plain, and served with ice cream and whipped cream. They have held up well stored in zipper-lock bags. These are definitely worth making again.

25 December 2016

Ultimate Cinnamon Buns

Recipe from Cook's Illustrated Baking Book, 2013, p. 70; available online

For the last few years I have been making our traditional Christmas morning cinnamon buns from scratch. I tried a new recipe this year from my Cook's Illustrated Baking Book. Christmas comes but once a year so I am willing to spend a little extra time to make something special.

Most of the work was done the afternoon before Christmas. I neglected to note the how much time was invested, it took several hours but much of that was letting the dough rise before shaping the buns. The buns are made from a very rich dough with much butter, significantly more than in the Alton Brown recipe I used two years ago. Most of the hard work of mixing and kneading is done by the mixer. It is important to plan ahead so the butter is softened and the the eggs are at room temperature, though there are ways to speed up the warming for both of these. The dough is rolled into an 18"x18" square, buttered, and then covered with the filling which is made of brown sugar, cinnamon, and a little salt. This is rolled up and sliced to make the buns. I made 12, though you can make fewer if you want larger buns. Rather than letting these rise immediately they were covered and put in the refrigerator overnight. On Christmas morning they sat for an hour at room temperature before baking and icing. The total time on Christmas morning before they are ready to eat is about two hours.

These are very good rolls/buns. They have a soft, rich crumb and a well balanced icing made from cream cheese and powdered sugar. They are great for the holidays and work well left over with just a little warming in the microwave. I had some trouble with the outside layer unrolling when they were cut, I needed to roll them tighter. This also might have decreased the amount of filling that fell out before and during baking. These buns are a little large for my normal breakfast, it would be worth it to figure out how to make fewer, smaller rolls the next time I make these.

28 December 2016

Oven-grilled London Broil

Recipe from Cook's Illustrated, May 1998

According to Cook's Illustrated, "London Broil doesn't refer to a particular cut of meet at all.  Rather, it's a generic label bandied about by butchers to sell large, cheap, unfamiliar steaks ...". Whatever it is, I had some leftover from making "Glenn's Pepper Steak".  When I've cooked London Broil in the past it often comes out quite tough, so I looked online to find a better way and discovered this recipe.

It is very easy: the meat is seasoned with salt and pepper. One side is seared on high heat in a heavy skillet for just a few seconds. It is then popped onto a pizza stone in a preheated 500° oven. The steak is flipped after 3-4 minutes and cooked to an internal temperature of 125°, another 3-4 minutes. Rest, cut against the grain into thin slices, and serve.

This will never be a great, or tender, piece of steak. However this simple method produced a London Broil that is as good as I can remember having. We were worried that the high heats used would set off the smoke alarm. As a precaution we pulled the battery, but found this was not necessary as there was no great amount of smoke. We did remember to put the battery back.

31 December 2016

Double-chocolate Cream Pie

Recipe(s) from Serious Eats

I had high hopes for this recipe. I was hoping for a recipe that produced something as good, or better, as the French Silk Pie that we enjoy. That is not what I got, though the problems that I had perhaps make it difficult to say for sure. It is rare for me to invest time (and money) into making something that turns out inedible. The dessert was made with three different recipes, all new to me, from Serious Eats: "Old-Fashioned Flaky Pie Dough", "Perfect Swiss Meringue", and the chocolate custard for the filling. I had problems with all three.

The pastry for the crust was the easiest of any that I have ever made and was a joy to handle when it was done. The recipe called for blind baking it, but to use sugar for weight. I chose instead to use pie weights. I don't know if that was the problem, but the crust slumped badly.

The custard didn't set, probably because I didn't cook it long enough. As I do always, I followed the instructions but apparently not well. (They say heat it gently until you see the first bubble, then cook for 90 seconds. But there were lots of little bubbles, do they count?) The pudding did not set and so in the final pie it was a chocolate soup rather than a thick rich custard.

I had the best luck with the Swiss meringue which actually came out pretty well. A mixture of sugar, egg whites, and few other items, is heated to 175° then whipped in a stand mixer. As the the mixture heated, using a double boiler and the bowl from the stand mixer, the egg whites started to cook, to congeal. I just continued heating and stirring and the finished meringue showed no ill effects that I detected.

I am trying not to blame the recipes, I have had good luck with recipes from Serious Eats in the past. But I believe some of the fault lies there and I question whether these were ever tested by home cooks before they were published. Some of the techniques and equipment used were odd. For example, the custard is suppose to be cooked in a saucier which is, I believe, rare in home kitchens. I used a sauce pan. Another example, the meringue mixture was cooked in the mixing bowl which was to be set on a ring of foil set in a wide pan of hot water; I used a sauce pan but this probably put the bottom of the mixing bowl in contact with the water leading to overheating at the bottom of the mixing bowl. 

The crust was tough, the custard didn't set, and the meringue was too sweet. The results were not good, and the total effort was greater than the French Silk Pie. I probably won't use any of these recipes again.


  1. I never understand those bubble type instructions. Do lots of little bubbles count? Beats me. I really don't like baking much to begin with, but if I was instructed to use equipment I didn't have, I would not even attempt it! Those cinnamon buns look great though. If you want to try another recipe for cinnamon buns, I have one I love!

  2. I would love to try your cinnamon bun recipe, though I usually only make them once a year so I might not try it for a while.