Sunday, September 27, 2020

Piña Colada Cupcakes

It has been a while since my last post (more than a month!).  I’m guessing that no one is surprised by this.  I think life has been pretty crazy for everyone this year.  The main reason I mention it is that I want to assure people who have been reading my blog for a long time that I’m still here…and I’m not planning on going anywhere.  I just haven’t been able to get to my blog as much as I had wanted to this year. 

As is the case with so many in my profession, a lot of my normal avenues of work have disappeared.  One would think that this would give me more time for the blog.  But in order to stay afloat I have found myself pivoting…and reinventing…and creating work where ever and however I can.  All of this takes up a lot of mental energy that I might normally devote to my blog.

As unfortunate as all of this has been, good things have been coming out of it.  Many of you know that one of the first things I did in the early days of the pandemic was to start teaching online classes through an olive oil/kitchen store called Olive Tree.  I have continued with these classes and will be doing more through the fall and holidays.  They are low-key, fun and interactive.  If you like online classes, you should check them out.

In July I started preparing curbside pick up dinners through Olive Tree.  We have aimed for simple, seasonal and accessible menus. It has been a pleasure to cook for people again and these meals will also continue for the foreseeable future.

Today I am sharing the recipe for the dessert I served as part of my September dinner.  The dinner fell on the last weekend of summer and I wanted it to have a beach vacation kind of feel to it.  I thought the dessert was perfect for the occasion:  Piña Colada Cupcakes (it’s hard to get more beach vacation than a Piña Colada!)

I was going to use the recipe that we use occasionally in my friend Nancy’s bakeshop to make miniature cupcakes.  It is a nice reliable recipe that hits all the right Piña Colada notes:  pineapple…coconut…Malibu rum…and a rich and creamy finish courtesy of fluffy cream cheese frosting.  But when I made them in my giant cupcake liners they didn’t turn out right.  They were kind of damp and heavy.  For whatever reason, cake recipes that work in one pan size sometimes don’t work in another (this can be due to a needed adjustment in the quantity of leavener to account for the different pan size…although, in this case, I think it might have been my oven…which I am still getting used to…).  However, it doesn’t happen often enough to prepare me for the pan of cake pucks that I pulled out of the oven.  To make matters worse, the dinner was only about a week and a half away…and the menu had been published.  I had to come up with something pretty quickly. 

I looked around a bit on line for a likely recipe, but none of those that I saw had all the flavor components of the original recipe that I liked so much (most didn’t include Malibu).  I was also not really in the mood to try a bunch of recipes from unknown and untried sources.  In the end I decided to take one of my tried and true sour cream cake formulas and alter it to include the flavors I wanted.  I chose a sour cream cake base because sour cream has almost as high of a fat content as coconut milk and I thought that by subbing coconut milk for some of the sour cream…and then reducing the fat by using Malibu and pineapple juice to make up the rest of the “liquid”…that I would have a recipe that performed in basically the same manner as the sour cream cake. 

And in just one try, it did.  My insty Piña Colada Cupcake recipe had everything I had originally planned on—the flavors of a Piña Colada in a rich, moist, fine-grained miniature cake.  Crowned with a generous swirl of Malibu spiked cream cheese frosting and a shower of toasted coconut, they were the perfect conclusion to a South of the Border menu. 

So if you are still not ready for summer to end…  Or you didn’t get to take your summer vacation this year….  You should whip up a batch of these cupcakes.  You’ll have a miniature summer vacation on a plate.  And since these cupcakes freeze beautifully (with or without the frosting), you can make a batch to enjoy some now…and load the rest into the freezer…providing a stash of tropical dessert vacations to be enjoyed during the cold and dark months ahead.

Piña Colada Cupcakes

200 g. (1 3/4 c.) all-purpose flour
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. baking soda
1 t. baking powder
121 g. (1/2 c.) coconut milk
28 g. (2 T.) Malibu rum
56 g. (1/4 c.) pineapple juice (from can of crushed pineapple)
90 g. (1/2 c.) very well drained crushed pineapple (see note)
75 g. (3/4 c.) sweetened coconut
114 g. (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
200 g. (1 c.) sugar
2 eggs, at room temperature
1/2 t. vanilla
Cream Cheese Frosting
Toasted Coconut 

Line a 12 cup standard muffin tin with 10 tulip style muffin liners, leaving the center 2 muffin cups empty. (In my limited experience with the tulip liners, if you try to bake 12 large cupcakes in a standard muffin pan, the ones in the center will not bake at the same rate as the ones on the edge).  Set aside.  Preheat the oven to 350°F. 

Combine the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda in a small bowl.  Whisk to blend.  In a measuring cup, combine the coconut milk, Malibu and pineapple juice.   In another bowl, combine the crushed pineapple and coconut, fluffing until the coconut and pineapple are uniformly combined. 

Cream the butter and sugar until very light and fluffy (about 5 minutes using a stand mixer).  Beat in the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides after each addition.  Beat in the vanilla. 

Fold in the flour mixture in three additions, alternating with the liquids in two additions.  Add the pineapple and coconut when the final mixture of dry ingredients is almost fully incorporated, 

continuing to mix just until the batter is homogenous.

Using a large ice cream scoop, divide the batter among the muffin liners.  (Each cupcake should weigh 95 grams.)

Transfer to the preheated oven and bake until golden and springy and a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean—about 22 to 25 minutes.

Cool the cupcakes completely before topping with 50 grams of cream cheese frosting each.  Garnish with a little toasted coconut.  Makes 10 large cupcakes.


  • Drain the crushed pineapple well: Place the contents of the can of pineapple in a sieve and us a rubber spatula or ladle to squeeze out most of the juice. A 20 oz. can of crushed pineapple in juice (not heavy syrup) will yield 8 oz. of well-drained/squeezed pineapple (about 1 1/4 c.) and 12 oz. of juice (1 1/2 c.).
  • I used “Tulip” style muffin liners in the 4 oz. size for these cupcakes. At this size the recipe produces 10 cupcakes. I assume you could make them in standard size muffin liners, but you will obviously need to use less batter per muffin (60 to 65 g)…which will make 15 to 16 cupcakes.
  • Use full fat coconut milk. I don’t know how the recipe would perform with the low fat version. 

Cream Cheese Frosting

6 oz./1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 lb. (3 cups) powdered sugar
1/2 T. Malibu
8 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature and cut into 8 cubes

Place the butter, powdered sugar and Malibu in a mixing bowl.  Using the paddle attachment, mix on the lowest setting until the powdered sugar is mostly absorbed.  Increase the speed to high and beat for 2 or 3 minutes, or until very light and fluffy.  Scrape down the bowl with a rubber spatula.  Beat again on high, adding the cream cheese with the machine running.  Beat just until the cream cheese has been smoothly absorbed. (Overbeating cream cheese frosting can cause it to become too soft.)  Makes enough frosting to generously frost 12 large cupcakes.

Printable Version

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Zucchini-Walnut Muffins with White Chocolate & Lemon Sugar

I have a confession to make. As much as I love all kinds of breakfast breads (coffeecake, scones, cinnamon rolls, yeasted-braids, muffins, etc), muffins tend to get the short shrift in my kitchen. It isn’t that I don’t like them. I do… I have posted recipes for many different kinds (all delicious). But to be honest, a standard muffin is just too small for my breakfast (I’m willing to accept the idea that the problem might be one of appetite, rather than muffin size…but I’ve chosen to approach this problem from the standpoint of blaming the muffin.) One would think the solution to this would be to just eat two muffins. But as it turns out, I think that two muffins are way too much. (Just call me Goldilocks…)
For several years now I have noticed pictures in cookbooks and magazines of muffins (and other miniature cakes) that had been baked in intriguing looking paper liners with large jagged, pointed edges. I didn’t think much about it other than that they were attractive. In any case I had never seen them for sale anywhere. 

Then, I saw them in use on a Bread Ahead Bakery tutorial for blueberry muffins. I was actually not being very attentive to the tutorial because I already have a blueberry muffin recipe that is the best (really). But when they began to fill the lined muffin tin with the batter, it became obvious to me that not only were these liners attractive, they made it so a standard muffin cup would hold more batter!

Several others watching at the time were asking about the liners and others who were familiar with them identified them as “Tulip” liners. As soon as the video was over I made a beeline for Amazon to search for Tulip muffin liners. A few days later my pack of 100 liners arrived.

I immediately made my blueberry muffin recipe, dividing it into 9 instead of 12 muffins. I could have made 8…but at the time I thought they looked quite full and I didn’t want to risk an overflow. I needn’t have worried. I got muffins that were tall and generously sized (but not too generous…). And as a bonus, because the liners are made with parchment paper, the muffins don’t stick at all (one of my pet peeves about the old-fashioned style of paper cupcake liners).

I now am able to use all of my delicious muffin recipes…and the standard muffin tins I already have in my cabinets…to make muffins that are just what I wanted: a muffin that is the size of 1 1/2 standard muffins. The only possible drawback to these lovely liners is that when you use them you don’t really get the quintessential “muffin top” (which I understand is the favorite part of the muffin for some people…). But since the “muffin top” portion generally wants to stick to the pan, this is not a drawback in my world.

Since muffins have been in the forefront of my mind, when I recently found myself with a glut of zucchini, a muffin was the first baked good I thought about making. I didn’t have a zucchini muffin recipe in my repertoire…so I decided to develop one. It is sort of a hybrid cross of Gina DePalma’s Zucchini & Olive Oil Cake and a Carrot & Apple Spice Muffin recipe that I posted a few years ago. I have added the white chocolate because I think zucchini requires a bit of extra sweetness and I didn’t want to add any more sugar to the muffin batter. I think golden raisins would be another great option. 

If you happen to have a few extra zucchini in your kitchen right now (a common problem in July and August), these muffins would be just the thing. Because they are muffins, they are quick to make and bake. They are also delicious: tender, sweet and spicy…with a tiny zing of lemon. And best of all, they are just the right size.

Zucchini Walnut Muffins 

3 T. granulated sugar
1/2 T. finely grated lemon zest

170 g. (1 1/2 c.) all-purpose flour
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. baking soda
3/4 t. baking powder
1 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. ground ginger
1/4 t. nutmeg
2 eggs
1 t. vanilla
65 g. (1/3 c.) brown sugar
100 g. (1/2 c.) granulated sugar
135 g. (2/3 c.) olive oil
200 to 225 g. finely shredded zucchini (top and tailed, but skin intact)
60 g. (1/2 c.) coarsely chopped/crumbled toasted walnuts
85 g. (1/2 c.) white chocolate chips (optional) 

Combine the sugar and lemon zest;  set the lemon sugar aside.

Place the next seven ingredients in a small bowl and whisk to blend. Set aside.

Place the eggs and vanilla in a large bowl and whisk to break up the eggs. Add the sugars and whisk until smooth. Add the oil while whisking constantly. Whisk until the mixture is smooth, homogenous, and thickened. 

Add the dry ingredients and fold in with a rubber spatula. When the dry ingredients are almost absorbed add the zucchini, walnuts & white chocolate. Continue to fold, just until blended.

Divide the batter among eight to twelve muffin cups (an ice cream scoop works well for this) that have been lined with “tulip” or standard-sized liners. You will get 12 with standard sized, 8 or 9 with tulip-style liners. Sprinkle the lemon-sugar over the batter. 

Transfer to a 350° oven and bake until golden brown, springy to the touch, and a toothpick inserted in the center of one of the muffins comes out clean....about 25 to 35 minutes (depending on the size of the muffins). Let the muffins cool in the pan for five minutes before removing to a wire rack.

Serve warm or at room temperature. The muffins will keep well at room temperature (if stored air-tight) for a couple of days. Freeze them for longer storage.

Makes 8 to 12 muffins.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Raw Zucchini Salad

One of the things I love about my new home is my kitchen.  It will come as no surprise to hear that during my home search one of my “must haves” was a good kitchen.  It didn’t have to be state of the art—but it had to be highly functional.  The kitchen I got exceeded my wildest expectations.  I love it…and have enjoyed getting to know it over the past year or so.

But of course, nothing is ever perfect.  During the past two summers I have discovered one thing that I really miss about my old kitchen:  its location in the house.   My old kitchen was just off a large great room that had a two story vaulted ceiling.  The house thermostat was located on the opposite side of the great room.  Without even thinking about it—even on the hottest days of summer—I was in the habit of firing up my oven for tasks hot and large (pizza) as well as things small and moderate (toasting a handful of nuts to top pasta or a salad).  The heat from the oven just wafted out of the kitchen and rose up into the heights of the great room ceiling, never making it as far as the thermostat. The kitchen never got overly hot…and the A/C never had to work any harder to make up for the heat being pumped out of my oven.  In my blissful ignorance I baked and roasted my ways through the long hot summers, always a bit mystified when people in classes commented that they loved my summer pizzas, but they had no intention of turning their oven up to that kind of temperature in the summer.

Fast forward to my new home and kitchen….with its nice powerful convection oven and poorly placed house thermostat (in a small hall area right off the kitchen).   Even though the layout of the house is open, the ceilings are of a standard height.  That, coupled with a smaller space in general, makes it so the temperature in the house can quickly become overwhelmed by my nice powerful oven.  If I turn it on—even for a few minutes—the temperature in a good portion of the house begins to climb…and the A/C begins to run non-stop.  

I don’t share any of this to complain.  Rather, I mention it because it has forced me to become a bit more creative and efficient—which is always a good thing.  The worst issues were solved with a few strategically placed fans (at least turning on the oven doesn’t make the thermostat go up even when the A/C is running!).  I also plan now about when and how I will use my oven.  And as often as possible I double and triple up on tasks:  If the oven is on to make coffeecake (a non-negotiable essential), I toast nuts (in larger batches)…or roast a couple of ears of corn…or bake a bunch of beets.  This way, later in the week, when I want nuts or corn (or beets) for a cold salad, the oven doesn’t even come into play.  

Another change has been in the things I eat—choosing to eat something in its raw state rather than cooked.  Today’s salad is a case in point.  I have always added zucchini to pastas, salads, quichequesadillas…all summer long—almost always in its cooked form (roasted, broiled, sautéed, etc.).  When I have chosen to eat it raw I have always felt it necessary to shave it in long ribbons or thin and wide cross sections.  It’s delicious this way, but not always appropriate.

Recently I saw a salad of thick-ish batonnets of raw zucchini on the NY Times Instagram feed.  It included nuts…and herbs…and cheese…and a tangy dressing—but they were just garnish.  It was basically an all out raw zucchini experience.  I was intrigued…and a bit dubious…but I made a mental note to try it sometime.

Later in the week I was making a BLT for dinner and needed a quick side dish.  I had recently come into an abundance of zucchini.  I thought of that salad.  The vinaigrette for the salad was more involved than I wanted—and the salad included toasted almonds (I had raw…)—so I made a few changes.  I had some of the vinaigrette left that I always use on raw late spring/early summer vegetable salads and I thought it would do nicely.  And I used some toasted and salted sunflower seeds that I had on hand and wouldn’t require the oven.  It was delicious.  I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the soft crunch of the zucchini.  To be honest, I think the additional hard crunch of almonds would have been a bit much, so I was glad I had had to use the sunflower seeds instead.

In the days that have followed I have made this style of zucchini the base of my lunch time salad on several occasions.  I almost always add roasted corn (I keep it in a container in the fridge) and cherry tomatoes.  My nut of choice is walnuts (toasted in quantity, salted & oiled, and kept in my pantry), but occasionally I will use sunflower seeds.  Sometimes I use the shaved Pecorino called for in the recipe, but more often than not I opt for big crumbles of Feta.  Arugula makes a great addition…as does mint.  But if you don’t have either of these on hand, it is delicious without.  I’m guessing basil or parsley leaves would be good, too.  And that dressing I had on hand that first time?  It has become the standard.  I have since made a big batch.

It should be obvious that this is a highly adaptable salad. The main thing to keep in mind is the seasoning.  In looking at the recipe and in thinking of my own experience with raw vegetables in general—and zucchini in particular—it seemed to me that salt and acid are the keys to the success of the salad.  So a salty cheese, a tangy vinaigrette, and careful salting are a must.  If you don't have a salty cheese, some olives would be a good addition.  Other than that, feel free to improvise with ingredients—using a nice balance of crunchy, soft, and juicy ingredients.   As for quantities, the ones I’m giving in the recipe are just a guide.  I never weigh when I make this salad—I just add larger and smaller handfuls of the ingredients.  And that’s what you should do too.  The only reason there are weights and measures in my recipe is to give you a place to start.  The last time I made it, I weighed everything as I put it into the bowl for the purpose of posting a recipe.

I realize of course that most of the rest of the world has been having to make these summer cooking adjustments all along—that I was truly spoiled.  But that’s ok.  I have no desire to trade my new kitchen for my old.  I’ll just keep adjusting.  My next operation keep-the-house-cool project will be making friends with my neglected Weber.  Grilled pizza, here I come. 

Raw Zucchini Salad
With Roasted Corn, Cherry Tomatoes & Feta

For one lunch-sized salad (recipe multiplies easily):

1 small zucchini/summer squash (about 2 1/2 oz), cut into quarter-inch batonnets
1/2 c. (about 2 1/2 oz.) roasted corn kernels
1/2 c./2 oz. cherry tomatoes, quartered (or halved of very small)
A small handful/1/2 oz. arugula
20 g./3 T. toasted, oiled & salted walnuts, coarsely crumbled or 1 1/2 T. oiled and salted sunflower seeds
1 oz. crumbled Feta (used a good quality Feta packed in brine) or shaved Pecorino
Salt & Pepper
1 1/2 to 2 T. Basic Tangy Vinaigrette (below)

Place the first six ingredients in a bowl.  

Season with salt and pepper.  Drizzle with the vinaigrette, toss to combine. Taste and correct the seasoning…adding more vinaigrette if you like.  Mound on a plate and serve!

  • Quantities should be to taste.  I have given amounts only as a starting point.  You should alter to suit your preferences and your palate.
  • Salad is delicious with a handful of fresh mint leaves.

Basic Tangy Vinaigrette:
1 T. finely minced shallot
1 small clove of garlic, minced
1/4 c. red wine vinegar
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
1 T. Dijon mustard
3/4 c. oil—olive oil, or half olive oil and half vegetable oil
1 T. finely minced parsley

Place the shallot, garlic, vinegar, pepper and a half teaspoon of kosher salt in the cup of an immersion blender...or regular blender.  Let sit for five minutes.  Add the mustard. With the blender running, add the oil in a thin stream to form a thick, emulsified dressing.  Add the parsley and process briefly...or simply stir in.  Taste and correct the seasoning.  Makes 1 cup vinaigrette.

The dressing keeps at least two weeks in the refrigerator.  If all olive oil is used, it will solidify under refrigeration and you will need to bring to room temperature before using.  When made with half vegetable oil it will still be pourable when cold.

Note: You may add the parsley with the Dijon...just be aware that your vinaigrette will have a pale green cast to it.

(Vinaigrette recipe from Cooking with the Seasons by Monique Jamet Hooker)

Printable Version

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Corn, Kohlrabi & Pancetta Sauté

One morning last week I received a message from an old friend of my family’s.  Her husband had been trout fishing over the weekend and they had a lot of fresh trout.  She offered me some.  I had plans for the day…and meeting her would require driving a bit…but fresh trout!  My plans could be changed.

As I thought about cooking it I mentally ran through the list of vegetables in my pantry.  I always lean toward the classics, but classic trout preparations focus more on the preparation of the fish…not on the vegetables.  Usually the trout is quickly sautéed—just long enough to crisp the skin—then finished with salty and tangy/mildly acidic ingredients: browned butter with almonds…lemon and capers…bacon/pancetta, garlic and toasted breadcrumbs…and always including aromatic parsley.  Since the fish itself is pretty mild, I focused on the flavors at play in these traditional accompaniments as I considered my vegetables.

I like corn with fish of all kinds and I had recently purchased some of my first ears of the summer, so I thought I would start there.  The combo of pancetta, garlic and parsley from Madeleine Kamman’s trout dish from the Aveyron had initially appealed to me…and I knew these ingredients would go well with the corn.  

Pancetta, garlic and parsley also made me think of a kohlrabi-sauced pasta I had made for dinner a few days prior.  The kohlrabi in this dish is diced small—about the size of a kernel of corn.  And corn and kohlrabi are delicious together. Suddenly there it was…a simple sauté of corn, kohlrabi and pancetta (with garlic, spring onions and parsley).  I knew it would be delicious.

The corn I used in my dish had already been roasted.  I have been in the habit for several years now of keeping a container of roasted corn in the fridge all through summer corn season.  Having it on hand makes it easy to quickly prepare the roasted corn salads I love (with tomatoes…avocado…summer squash…shell beans and roasted peppers…).  But if you don’t have any roasted corn on hand…and you don’t feel like heating up your kitchen just to roast an ear of corn, you could just add the corn to the sauté in its raw state.  Add it with the spring onions. 

I have written the recipe as I made it:  for one person.  But it is easily multiplied for as many as you will be serving.   Simply choose a sauté pan that is just large enough to hold all the vegetables in a snug single layer. 

My trout dish really was delicious.  But you don’t have to have trout to make this corn and kohlrabi sauté.  A few days after I made it with the trout, I prepared it again (so I could write down the recipe), but I used halibut instead of trout.  I think any kind of mild fish would be great.  Simply sauté the fish and finish it with a generous squeeze of lemon after you remove it from the pan.  And even though I conceived of the recipe as an accompaniment to fish, if you don’t like fish I’m sure it would make a fine accompaniment for a pork chop…or even a pan seared chicken breast.  And if you have never tasted kohlrabi, this dish would be a great way to try it out.

Corn, Kohlrabi, & Pancetta Sauté

For each serving you will need:
1 t. butter
1/2 oz. pancetta, minced or diced
1 small kohlrabi, peeled and cut in a 1/4-inch dice—you’ll have about 1/2 cup or 2 oz.
Olive oil
1 small spring onion (or scallion), white and equal quantity of green, thinly sliced
1 clove green garlic (or a small clove regular garlic), minced
1/3 to 1/2 cup roasted corn kernels (about 2 oz.)—see notes
2 to 3 t. minced flat leaf parsley

Choose a sauté pan that is large enough to hold the corn and kohlrabi in a snug single layer.  Place the pan over moderate heat and add half of the butter.  When the butter has melted, add the pancetta.  When it has rendered and begun to turn golden (2 to 3 minutes), transfer it to a plate using a slotted spoon.   The pancetta should still be slightly soft and chewy (not crisp).

If the pan seems dry (there should be enough fat in the pan to coat the kohlrabi), add a little olive oil.  Add the kohlrabi to the pan along with a pinch of salt.  Let the kohlrabi sizzle gently, stirring occasionally, until it is mostly tender—perhaps five minutes or so.  Add the remaining butter along with the onions and garlic.  

Cook until the onions are beginning to soften and everything is fragrant—about 2 minutes.  If at this point the kohlrabi isn’t tender enough for your liking, add a splash of water and simmer gently until it is, replenishing the water as necessary.  You should not need to cook it too much longer.  When the kohlrabi is tender, allow the water to reduce/evaporate until the kohlrabi is once again gently sizzling in the fat.  Add the corn along with the cooked pancetta and heat through.  Toss in the parsley.  Taste and correct the seasoning with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Serve hot.

  • To roast corn, preheat the oven to 375° (or thereabout). Place the corn, in the husk, directly on the oven rack and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the corn from the oven. As soon as you are able to handle the corn, peel the husks and silks back so that the corn won't continue to cook. Cut the corn kernels away from the cob and enjoy...or use in a recipe. A typical ear of Midwestern summer corn yields about a cup of kernels.
  • If you don't have roasted corn on hand (I keep it on hand during the summer for salads, pilafs, etc.) and don't want to turn your oven on I'm sure you could use fresh corn kernels in this recipe. Add with the spring onions. You may need to add a bit more butter or olive oil to the pan.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Peanut Butter & Brownie Chunk Ice Cream

A few weeks ago I made some brownies for part of a dessert I made for a private dinner for two.  Since it would have been more work to calculate the amount of batter needed for a tiny pan than it was to just go ahead and make a normal sized batch, I did the latter.  This also gave me a few brownies for my own consumption.  I tucked those extra brownies into the freezer so I could consume them in a controlled manner…at a leisurely pace.

A few days later I wanted to have one after my lunch…and I didn’t particularly want to wait for it to thaw (so much for control…and a leisurely pace…).  I’m only slightly embarrassed to admit that I ate it while it was still mostly frozen.  And it was delicious—with a nice fudge-y and chewy texture.

I must have been extra hungry because I immediately started thinking about how delicious it would be to fold some of those brownie chunks into some ice cream.  Some peanut butter ice cream…  At that point I pretty much set aside my plans for the rest of the afternoon while I worked out a formula for peanut butter ice cream.  By lunch the next day I was enjoying my first scoop. 

I suppose you could use any brownie recipe for this ice cream.  In general, brownies have so much sugar, that unless they happen to be one of those super-dense brownies, they will tend to have that nice fudge-y and chewy texture when frozen.  I used a favorite from my childhood:  the “Dinah Shore Brownies” I posted many years ago.  You can make the recipe as I posted it (using 70% chocolate), or do as I did for the brownies I put in my ice cream and use unsweetened chocolate (the conversion is in the “note” at the bottom of the recipe). 

The ice cream itself is simply a variation on my standard French custard ice cream.  I just replaced part of the heavy cream with peanut butter.  The ice cream as I made it was very peanut buttery (perfect, in my opinion).  If you would like a slightly less intense version, you can reduce the peanut butter by a third.  And if peanut butter and chocolate isn’t your thing, you can make vanilla…or coffee...or fresh mint…or maybe Bing cherry…and fold your brownie chunks into that instead.  Any one of these will be sure to hit the spot when you start to crave something cool and creamy as the summer heat settles in.

Peanut Butter & Brownie Chunk Ice Cream

1 1/2 c. (363 g.) whole milk
3/4 c. (174 g.) Heavy Cream (see notes)
6 T. (75 g.) sugar
6 (120 g.) egg yolks
1/4 c. (85 g.) honey
3/4 c. (198 g) Peanut Butter (see notes)
300 g. fudge-y brownies, frozen and cut into small cubes (see notes)

Place the milk in a medium-sized, non-reactive saucepan and bring to a boil. While the milk is heating, pour the cold cream into a chilled bowl, set aside. Whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until thick and pale yellow. When the milk boils, temper the egg yolks by gradually whisking in about 2/3 c. of the hot milk. Stir the tempered egg mixture back into the saucepan and place the pan over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until the custard is thickened and forms a path when you draw your finger across the back of the spoon. Immediately strain the custard into the bowl of cold cream. Add the honey and the peanut butter and stir until they have melted into the warm custard.  Refrigerate until thoroughly chilled.

Freeze the ice cream in an ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions. When the ice cream is the consistency of soft serve, add the frozen brownies and fold in.  Transfer to a freezer container and freeze for an hour or two before serving. Makes about 1 quart ice cream.

  • This quantity of peanut butter makes an intensely peanut buttery ice cream. If you prefer a lighter peanut butter taste, reduce the peanut butter to 1/2 cup (132 g.) and increase the cream to 1 cup (232 g.).
  • If you make “Dinah Shore Brownies” …and cut them into 16 squares…you will need 6 brownies. For this ice cream I made the brownies with 4 oz. of unsweetened chocolate and 1 1/2 c. of sugar (instead of 6 oz. of bittersweet chocolate and 1 c. of sugar) as described in the notes of the recipe.
  • When I cut the brownies, I crumbled up a few of the cubes to add varied texture to the ice cream…some large and some fine bits of brownies.
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Saturday, May 30, 2020

Potato Gnocchi

It has been my intention to write a post on how to make potato gnocchi for almost as long as I have been keeping a blog.  I love good potato gnocchi.   In the early years I didn’t write it because I hadn’t perfected my written recipe—or my method of teaching—enough to give me confidence that everyone who used my recipe and method would have good success.  Then, I somehow never managed to get good pictures of the process (I was in a hurry…the room was too dark…etc). I corrected the first problem years ago.  And recently, when I taught an online “cook along” class all about potato gnocchi, the conditions were just right for taking pictures of the process.  So here it is.  Finally.

People have strong opinions about gnocchi….they either love them or hate them.  I suspect this is due to the wide variation in quality.  Potato gnocchi can be utterly delicious: light, tender pillows of potato floating in a flavorful broth, tossed in a rich ragû or tasty pesto, or lightly crisped from a quick sauté and tossed with seasonal vegetables.   They can also be gummy and heavy…true belly bombs.  To make things worse, this latter sort is often served drowning in an overly rich sauce.  I’m not sure why I like them so much, certainly I haven’t had too many good examples when eating out.  The ones I make at home are of the former variety.

The good news is that potato gnocchi are simple to make.  (There’s just no excuse not to make them at home.)  The trick to making gnocchi is a light, restrained touch.  If you add as little flour as is necessary to make a manageable dough and then work the dough as lightly as possible to avoid developing too much gluten (as when making a good pâte brisée), you will have good gnocchi.  If in addition you take the time to make them into petite little pillows—rather than large “two-bite” sized chunks—you will be the road to making excellent potato gnocchi. 

To begin, choose starchy potatoes.  Idaho Russets or Yukon Gold potatoes are perfect.  You will get an even better result if the potatoes are a bit older (since vegetables lose moisture as they sit in storage).  Then, bake the potatoes instead of boiling/simmering them which will introduce water.  (Even steaming will add water.)  

Baked potatoes, split while hot, to get rid of excess moisture via steam.

Baking the potatoes cooks the potatoes thoroughly without adding water. The drier the potato, the less flour you will need to hold the gnocchi together. 

Besides the flour and potato, most gnocchi include some egg.  There are very fine gnocchi makers who insist that egg should not be a part of the mix because it can give a rubbery texture to the gnocchi.  Also, because egg adds moisture, the dough will necessarily require more flour (which as noted above can contribute to heaviness or toughness).  But egg insures that the gnocchi will not disintegrate when they are cooked (since the egg protein sets the gnocchi before the water comes to a simmer).  No one has ever complained that my gnocchi are tough or rubbery.  So I am confident that as long as you are careful to use only as much flour as is necessary to form a cohesive dough—and don’t allow the gnocchi to remain in the simmering water too long (which will harden the egg protein)—you should be able to add egg without lowering the quality of your result. 

The other ingredient of note in my gnocchi recipe is a little bit of butter.  Alice Waters in her book Chez Panisse Vegetables includes a bit of butter in her gnocchi and I have always liked the added flavor and tenderness that results.  But you could easily leave it out if you prefer.

I mentioned above that you should make an effort to form petite gnocchi.  The reason for this is that small gnocchi will cook more rapidly and more uniformly than larger specimens.  Gnocchi that are not cooked through are doughy and heavy.  Because of the egg, gnocchi that are cooked too long can be rubbery.  Considering both these things, large gnocchi have the potential to be rubbery…or doughy…or both (if they are very large).  Making them small is a further guarantee that they will be tender and light.

As for the nuts and bolts process of making the gnocchi, it is very thoroughly detailed in the recipe below.  I will only emphasize a couple of things here.  First, the baked potato pulp needs to be passed through a food mill…or potato ricer…or a mesh sieve/tamis...or the large holes of a box grater—basically anything that will mill the flesh of the potato into a perfectly smooth substance without activating the starch by a vigorous stirring or back and forth motion.  Simply using an old fashioned potato masher is not enough.   

Secondly, the process of working in the flour is best accomplished on a counter top (or other flat work surface) with the aid of a bench scraper.  The cutting motion used will quickly and thoroughly incorporate the flour without developing the starch in the potatoes or too much gluten in the flour.  If you have never worked dough on a counter (rather than a bowl) it might feel a bit awkward, but the bench scraper will not only help cut the flour into the potato-egg mixture, it will also be used to clean the counter as you work.  It is counterintuitive, but dumping all of your ingredients out of the bowl and onto the counter is actually a very efficient and neat way to work.

Finally, the formed gnocchi should look like a little pillow with rounded edges, with ridges on one side and a dimple/divot on the other.  The ridges and dimple are formed simultaneously when you press the cut cylinders of dough against the tines of a fork with your thumb.  Because the finished gnocchi is generally rectangular in shape it seems to make sense to take the cylinder—which is longer than it is wide (like a rectangle)—and lay it across (perpendicular to) the tines of the fork and roll it forward  and off of the fork.  But in my opinion this is incorrect.  I think the cylinder should be placed on the fork upright…with one of the cut ends against the tines of the fork.  

Then using your thumb you press on the other cut surface—down and forward—squashing the cylinder down a bit as you roll it forward off of the fork.  

You will have to keep the fork and your thumb lightly floured because you’re working against the tacky cut surfaces, but when formed this way the gnocchi are plump and rounded….just like a little pillow of potato.

Once you get the hang of it, making gnocchi is not difficult.  But like a lot of handmade foods (fresh pasta, for example…or meatballs), it is a process and it does take time.  Fortunately the formed gnocchi freeze beautifully. (Spread on baking sheets and freeze the gnocchi until hard, then transfer to freezer bags for storage.)  And while many recipe writers will tell you that you can cook the gnocchi from frozen (straight out of the freezer), I have found this to be a risky proposition.  Dropping the frozen gnocchi into a pot of boiling water is like dropping ice cubes into the water.  The temperature of the water drops and even over high heat, as it recovers, the edges of the gnocchi begin to fall apart in the lukewarm water.  By the time the water boils, you might have potato soup. 

Instead, when you want to cook your frozen gnocchi, spread them out on a semolina dusted baking sheet and leave them (uncovered) for about a half hour until they have thawed.  You can then cook them exactly as you would if they were freshly made. 

Before I finish, I wanted to give a plug for something new I'm doing on my Instagram feed.  I have begun to post short cooking demonstration videos to IGTV.  My first one was for the ever popular Cream Scones that I posted many years ago.  The most recent is for the potato gnocchi in this post.  I have made an effort to describe the process in detail here...but having a video to watch can only help.  If you have questions, please feel free to post them here...or on my IG feed.

Potato Gnocchi

2 russet potatoes (about 1 1/2 lbs.)
1 c. all-purpose flour (about 4 to 4 1/2 ounces)
1 to 1 1/2 T. butter
1 egg, beaten
salt, pepper & nutmeg, to taste
Semolina flour

Prick potatoes and bake in a preheated 400° oven until quite soft and tender—about 1 hour.  As soon as the potatoes are cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh and pass through a food mill.  

Add the butter and seasoning (start with 1 t. kosher salt, several grindings of black pepper and a pinch of nutmeg) and combine lightly with a fork.  Add the egg and blend into the potato in a few strokes.

Place the flour in the center of a clean counter and turn the potato mixture out onto the flour.  

With a bench scraper, cut the flour into the potatoes just until it has disappeared.  

Knead briefly to form a soft, slightly tacky, dough.  

Cut the dough into eight pieces.  On a lightly floured surface, roll each piece out into a long rope that is about 1/2-inch thick.  

Place the ropes on a floured or semolina dusted cookie sheet and let rest for 1/2 hour at a cool room temperature.  

To form the gnocchi, place each rope on the floured board and cut crosswise into ¾-inch-thick slices.  

To finish shaping, place one of the cut surfaces of the gnocchi on a floured fork.  With your (floured) thumb press the other cut surface down and away from yourself, rolling the gnocchi off of the fork as you do.  You should end up with a small dumpling that has the marks of the fork on one side and a dimple from your thumb on the other.

Place the finished gnocchi on a semolina dusted sheet pan and scatter more semolina over all.  Set the gnocchi aside until you are ready to cook them—ideally they should be cooked within 1 to 3 hours.  They may also be frozen at this point. 

Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil.  Pour a few tablespoons of olive oil or melted butter on a sheet pan or large platter and set aside.  Add the gnocchi (don’t overcrowd the pot—cook in 2 batches if necessary).  Carefully run a flat wooden spoon or heat proof rubber spatula over the bottom of the pan to make sure the gnocchi aren’t sticking.  Continue to cook for 1 minute after the gnocchi float to the surface—or about the time the water begins to return to a boil.  Lift the gnocchi out of the water with a mesh strainer and spread them in the prepared pan.  Serve immediately dressed with your favorite sauce or drizzled with more melted butter and grated Parmesan. 

Makes 4 entrée or 6 appetizer or side-dish servings.

Working ahead:
  • Make the gnocchi up to a week ahead and freeze before boiling.  Freeze on flour or semolina dusted sheets and when hard, transfer to freezer bags.   When ready to cook, spread the frozen gnocchi on semolina dusted sheets and let sit (uncovered) at room temperature for 30 to 60 minutes (during which time they should thaw).  Cook as for fresh. 
  • Another way to work ahead is to serve sautéed gnocchi.  (I actually prefer them this way—they are even lighter.)  To prepare them, boil the gnocchi as directed and spread on an oiled or well-buttered sheet pan.  Set the gnocchi aside and allow them to cool.  The gnocchi may be cooked an hour or two ahead and left (uncovered) at room temperature.  When ready to serve, heat a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat.  Add 1 1/2 T. of the butter.  When the butter begins to brown, add half of the cooked gnocchi.  Increase the heat to high and cook the gnocchi in a single layer—tossing once or twice—until the gnocchi are golden brown and crispy in spots and hot through (about 2 minutes).  If you like, add some minced herbs—chives, parsley, etc. at this point.  Transfer to a serving platter and repeat with the remaining butter and cooked gnocchi.  Serve immediately.
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