When in Singapore…

Sadly, I wasn’t the one who got to go to Singapore – this time. Chris headed out there last Friday as he says, to “take care of bizniss”. And although he spent 2 of the 5 days going to and fro, the other 3 were primarily loaded with plenty of Apple-related activity.

He did get to eat to eat plenty of good food, like black pepper crab and all sorts of handmade noodle dishes, and he shopped for durian in the local markets. He admitted that it smelled like shit, and even though it’s fruit, technically, it supposedly has a weird custard-like consistency. Meh. I’ll stick with Asian pears as my “exotic fruits”.

Anywho, he arrived back safe and sound late this week, bloated, jet-lagged, and with a bag of boxed noodle dishes so I can make my own Singapore noodle entrees at home. YUM. I’m definitely glad he’s back, but while he was gone I must say I accomplished quite a bit.

For starters, I mopped. Okay, our detergent-filled robot mopped, but that still meant I had to move rugs around AND put them back. Why, you ask? We’re having a party this weekend. That’s right, Iron Chef San Francisco is about to be in full effect. YES!

I listened to Bjork. And Cake. And I watched a few episodes of What Not to Wear. I even drank a bottle of Pinot while watching Something Borrowed on Saturday night, with Indian takeout in my belly. It was downright awesome. Sometimes a quiet weekend evening is the most perfect thing on earth (especially with lackluster romantic comedies at play).

I went to the San Rafael farmers’ market in search of pink lemons, only to find the three remaining fruits hard and shriveled; the weather was nice, though, and Judy bought dining room chairs – finally! Earlier that weekend, we noshed on plenty of goodies at the SF Street Food Festival, including steamed pork buns, arepas, and something I’ve been craving for weeks – no lie – chocolate babka from Wise Sons Deli.

And then!, inspired by the layers upon layers of said chocolate, and in between Mexican dinner and ice cream with the other Heather – a perfect weeknight catch-up, I finished off my lonely week by making my own babka at home. I even took it in to work the next day for fear I’d eat it all when no one was watching. Or even if everyone was watching, because when something’s this good, who cares, really. There’s no need for class when chocolate’s involved, is there?

 

Chocolate Babka
from Good to the Grain; makes 1 cake

time commitment: ~ 4 hours (a little over an hour active time – most of time is letting dough rise) + overnight chilling in the fridge

oh! a couple of things. this recipe came from one of my favorite cookbooks, which means that a lot of interesting flours are used. I’m sure you can find them online, but I bought my Kamut and millet flours from a bulk market (Rainbow Grocery in SF). Whole Foods probably carries them too. if all else fails, I’m sure you could substitute other flours or even just use all purpose, although the texture and taste will obviously be a little different….

also! i’m serious when I say to put the rolls in randomly (you’ll see). the dough falls into place upon baking and when it comes out, it looks like a perfect gorgeous cake. this bread is amazing like that.

printable version

ingredients
sponge
1 pack active dry yeast
1 c 2% milk
1 T honey
1 c Kamut flour
1/4 c millet flour

dough
2 1/2 c all purpose flour
1 T kosher salt
3 eggs
8 oz (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temp

filling
1 c pecan halves
8 oz bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped
1/2 c brown sugar
1/4 c sugar
1 t kosher salt
2 oz (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

instructions
make the sponge. pour yeast into bowl of stand mixer. heat milk in microwave so that it’s warm to the touch; pour over the yeast and stir together. add honey, Kamut flour and millet flour, then stir again. add all-purpose flour to the top of the dough, then the salt; do not stir.

let the sponge sit for 30 minutes, until flour cracks. meanwhile sit eggs out to come to room temperature. after 30 minutes, crack eggs and add to the sponge. affix the hook attachment and mix on low until flour is incorporated, scraping down sides.

if dough is sticking to the sides, add 1 extra T of all-purpose flour at a time and stir until dough is forming a cohesive mass and pulling away from the bowl (may take up to 1/2 c). turn mixer to medium and mix for 5 minutes; strop and scrape dough from hook and bowl. mix for another 5 minutes. at this point, the dough should be an elastic mass. add butter 1 T at a time and mix on medium until each is incorporated. afterwards the dough will be shiny and soft.

spray or butter a large bowl, scrape dough into the bowl, cover with a towel and let rise for 2 hours. punch dough down, cover, and refrigerate overnight.

rub a bundt pan with butter or spray and add a bit of sugar to dust. toast pecans in a skillet over medium for about 10 minutes, tossing occasionally. meanwhile, dust top of dough with flour and place, flour side down, onto a floured work surface. dust top with flour and roll into a rectangle 10 x 16 inches. rub butter onto dough or drop into small chunks. combine sugars and salt into a small bowl and spread over dough. once pecans are toasted, slightly break them up and sprinkle over sugar mixture, then add the chocolate.

starting at the wide end of the dough, roll into a tight log, and slice into 13-15 pieces. place pieces randomly into the bundt pan (some upright, some spiral side down, etc), filling in large spaces, until all pieces are added. dump any extra sugar/pecans/chocolate over the top; cover and let dough rise until doubled in size, about 2 hours.

preheat oven to 350 F. once dough has risen, bake for 40 minutes. remove from oven and let sit for 15 minutes, then place a rack over the top and flip upside down, releasing the bread. if not eating right away, store in airtight container.

Peaches & Rainbows

Over the last three weeks, I’ve made it a point to limit the purchasing of edible items to almost nothing, aside from what’s needed for simple, quick cooking and things that move easily. Also, I’m not buying items I already have in storage. That said, things like soy sauce and sriracha made the cut, but things like flour and butter didn’t.

Of course, all of my 10+ flours might very well be rancid by the time I get to them next weekend, but that’s a risk I’m willing to take in hopes of avoiding starting completely from scratch in the kitchen.

I think that’s why I forced nudged Chris to make a candy bar run earlier this week; I was craving something sweet some kinda fiercely, and even though I hadn’t eaten a Whatchamacallit in years, it seemed like the only appropriate solution. You see, I’m used to having immediate access to things like blenders, mixers, muffin tins, baking sheets, etc. This little temporary ‘kitchen’ has none of the above (I think I’ve already mentioned that about 10 times before, right?!). To that, add the fact that I was already living without my personal belongings for a month, and that equals exactly 2 months of this crap. What can I say; I caved, and I’m sayin’ it loud and proud. (That was a damn good Whatchamacallit.)

But let’s put things in perspective here; while these 2 months haven’t been peaches and rainbows per se, they haven’t been storm clouds and gremlins either. I mean for reals, we’ve had multiple bouts of amazing get-togethers, dinners, drinks, and the like as a result of this move. I didn’t even pay for most of them (lesson: if you want free drinks and dinners, move outta state ;)).

We even threw ourselves a going-away party a couple of months ago, where I decided to whip out a few treats, including these cookies I also started thinking about this week. Hard to believe it’s been that long since I baked cookies, or used my own cutting board, or had access to those dried blueberries that are waiting in storage, but it has.

When I find all of those items I’ve been sorely missing, a few of the first things I’m going to do include buying some butter along with a few other essential items, taking a nap on my long-lost couch, maybe unpacking a few boxes (the one with the flour and dried blueberries, for example), and then high-tailing it into the kitchen and making some cookies.

There will not be leftovers, either.

Cornmeal Blueberry Cookies
adapted from Good to the Grain; makes about 3 dozen

I am a huge lover of cookies of all shapes, flavors, and sizes, but non-traditional cookies hold a very special place in my heart, or belly. these aren’t your average cookies; they are sweet and chewy, but not overpowering on the dessert scale. in fact, you could probably eat a couple for breakfast without feeling too bad about it. dried blueberries are somewhat pricey (i get mine from Costco), but they are so perfect in this recipe. i’m sure you could use other dried fruits, but if they’re larger than blueberries (pea-sized), you’ll want to give ’em a rough chopping.

oh, and these cookies are definitely best eaten the day they’re prepared. they have a tendency to harden quickly, so either eat them the day of or store in an airtight container. i’m guessing you could halve the recipe if you don’t want this many, or even freeze pre-baked, rolled and coated dough, adding a couple of minutes to the baking time and baking straight from the freezer.

time commitment: about 1 hour, half of which is active and half of which involves smelling these things bake.

printable version

ingredients
2 c corn flour
2 c all-purpose flour
1 c finely ground cornmeal
1 1/2 t baking soda
2 t cream of tartar
2 t kosher salt
8 oz (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 c brown sugar
2 eggs
1/4 c milk
1 c dried blueberries (see above)
1/2 c sugar, for finishing

instructions
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or a Silpat, or spray with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, combine dry ingredients (corn flour through salt) and whisk for a couple of minutes to break up any chunks (Boyce’s recipe says to sift these ingredients together, but I can’t seem to get behind sifting ingredients, although who knows, maybe it does really impact the recipe…).

Add the butter and the brown sugar to the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or use a large bowl and a hand mixer). Turn the mixer to low speed and mix until the butter and sugar are combined, then increase the mixer speed to medium and cream for 2 minutes. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing until each is combined. Add the flour mixture to the bowl and blend on low speed until the flour is barely combined, about 20 seconds. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. Add the milk and the blueberries. Slowly mix until the dough is evenly combined.

Pour the finishing sugar into a bowl. Scoop mounds of dough, each about 3 tablespoons in size, form them into balls and set them on a plate. Dip each ball into the sugar, coating it lightly. Arrange the balls on the baking sheets, leaving about 3 inches between them. Chill any remaining dough until ready to use.

Bake the cookies for 20 to 22 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through. The cookies will puff up and crack at the tops and are ready to come out when the sugar crust is golden brown and the cracks are still a light yellow. They will appear soft, but will harden and cook more when removed from the oven.

Repeat with the remaining dough.