14 March 2010

Apples and Beer

A dinner party, with delicious homemade curries and daal and mango salsa.

Two cakes. One from a light, buttery, spicy batter laced with caramelized chunks of Granny Smith apples.

The other, a mixture of cocoa and stout beer.

Two cakes. One filled with tart lemon curd and frosted with barely-sweet ginger-lemon whipped cream.

The second glazed with a simple and dangerously delicious chocolate-coffee ganache.

The overflow batter from both made into cupcakes: A godsend for our post-party hangovers.

We couldn't decide which we liked better. You'll have to bake them both and decide for yourself.

Chocolate Stout Cake at Smitten Kitchen

Apple Spice Cake at David Lebowitz

Lemon Curd (adapted from Epicurious)

3 large egg yolks
1/3 c sugar
1/3 c fresh lemon juice
2 T butter

In a small heavy saucepan whisk together yolks and sugar and whisk in lemon juice, butter, and a pinch of salt. Cook mixture over moderately low heat, whisking, until it reaches boiling point, 5 to 7 minutes (do not let it boil). Strain curd through a fine sieve into a bowl and cool, its surface covered with a plastic wrap. Chill curd, covered at least 4 hours or overnight.

Ginger-Lemon Whipped Cream

200 g whipping cream
1/4 c confectioners' sugar
1 T freshly grated ginger
1 T lemon zest

Beat cream until soft peaks form. Beat in sugar, ginger, and lemon. Add more ginger or lemon to taste.

08 March 2010

Baking in Buenos Aires (BIBA): Peanut Butter Crispy Bars

Baking in Buenos Aires, especially when one is trying to bake something not typically Argentine, requires translating, sleuthing, and a certain willingness to improvise.

For example, last year I baked chocolate chip cookies without chocolate chips, and a few weeks ago I baked cupcakes in flan moulds. I've learned that confectioner's sugar is called azúcar impalpable, and that brown sugar is called azúcar rubia (blond sugar). And I hate to admit this, but I still haven't found real vanilla extract and have been baking with its artificial redheaded stepchild. Don't tell Martha.

On Sunday we had a potluck dinner to attend, and with all the healthy eating that's been going on around here I wanted to make something indulgent. I decided on Baked's Peanut Butter Crispy Bars and their simple and ridiculously decadent list of ingredients: peanut butter, butter, milk & dark chocolate, sugar, and corn syrup. Oh, and Rice Krispies.

It turns out, however, that in Buenos Aires, Rice Krispies are nowhere to be had. I went to three grocery stores in search of the snap, crackle and pop that, with its various flavours and box sizes, takes up half of most North American cereal aisles, but no luck. I settled for Special K (the only puffed-rice cereal I could find). The Special K flakes were much bigger than Rice Krispies, and they tasted a bit too... healthy. Then the corn syrup wasn't quite light, as the recipe calls for, and the resulting caramel was a bit cloying. And peanut butter here is mostly the super-natural no-salt-no-sugar kind, so the second layer (peanut butter and milk chocolate) didn't seem quite sweet enough and tasted almost overly peanut-buttery. Top layer notwithstanding (I have yet to meet a mixture of melted butter and chocolate that I didn't like), I had my doubts about this recipe as I was creating it.

And even when I tasted the final product, I wasn't sure. They had all the right elements for deliciousness: caramel, peanut butter, chocolate, and crunch. Despite all these wonderful characteristics, something wasn't quite right. I wasn't even sure I wanted these bars to represent at the potluck. I almost threw the whole batch in the garbage, thinking, these bars aren't worth their salt.



I grabbed a bar out of the fridge and sprinkled it with sea salt, and the sun broke through the clouds and made that salt sparkle like Sandra Bullock's Oscar dress, and lo, the much-adapted Peanut Butter Crispy Bar became greater than the sum of its parts. And North and South Americans alike loved them at the party: They were gone--devoured--within minutes of our arrival. I suspect they'd taste even more delicious after a day or two, but, yeah. Good luck with that.

The original recipe, which will withstand liberal adaptation, is at Smitten Kitchen.

04 March 2010

More Breakfast: Homemade Granola

I used to make granola at home all the time. But that was back in the land of (relatively) cheap maple syrup, which is all I'd ever used as a sweetener. That's not to say you can't find maple syrup in Argentina, and it's even Canadian, but a small bottle costs as much as a perfectly-grilled filet mignon that's big enough to share, and a half-litre of Malbec.

But I've been stubborn, and while I don't recommend substituting Malbec for your maple syrup (except maybe on pancakes?), honey is a viable alternative. As for the other ingredients, Buenos Aires is rife with dietéticas, or natural food stores, they're often expensive, so last week I wandered into my new favourite place in Buenos Aires: Barrio Chino, or Chinatown. Chinatown here is really less of a neighbourhood and more of a block, but you can still find lots of what you'd expect to find in any Chinatown worth its salt: Myriad knicknacks, chicken feet, and delicious fried goodies. And Buenos Aires' Chinatown has a store called Casa China that is overflowing with imported sauces, teas, and, just in case you're making granola, piles of dried fruits and whole grains.

Homemade Granola
3 c old-fashioned rolled oats
1-2 c chopped dried fruit and/or nuts and/or other healthy goodies (like ground flax seeds, sesame seeds, or wheat germ)
1/3 c sweetener (maple syrup is my first choice, but honey works well too, and I'm sure agave nectar would also be delicious).

Toss the oats and any nuts you're including with the sweetener. Spread on a baking sheet or 2 and toast in the oven. The time will vary depending on your oven. Trivia: In the 5 apartments in which we've lived in Buenos Aires, only one has had temperature indication on the oven. I've been winging it, and so far, so good. Anyway, set yours to 350°F and give the oats/nuts a stir after 15 minutes so they toast evenly.

Once your oats are toasty, let them cool, then stir in your dried fruit (including any coconut. If you want to toast the coconut--toasted coconut is super-delicious, especially on waffles and oatmeal, but I digress--do it separately, as it has a tendency to burn and might even set your toaster oven on fire. Or so I've heard). I used dates, pears, and apricots, walnuts, and sunflower seeds, and about 1/3 c toasted wheat germ. I recommend adding a sprinkle of sea salt to boost the flavour.

Granola keeps for several weeks in an airtight container.